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Alternative & Indie - Released May 16, 2014 | Polyvinyl Records

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American Football existed for a blink of an eye, coming together in the late '90s in a small Midwestern college town out of a small but enthusiastic pool of young musicians. The band, consisting of Cap'n Jazz/Joan of Arc alumni Mike Kinsella as well as guitarist Steve Holmes and drummer Steve Lamos, played only a few live dates before devolving into a recording project and then silently disappearing altogether around 2000. Apart from a three-song EP, their self-titled 1999 album was all the trio left behind, its nine songs exploring a hushed, thoughtful take on the often more aggressive tones of the hardcore-birthed emo scene. American Football's songs dig deep into uncommon time signatures and jazz-influenced chords, and even implement understated trumpet and electric piano into their web of interlocking guitar runs and muted, softly smiling vocals. Happening concordantly with a thriving post-rock movement hubbed close by in Chicago, the band has hints of the same musical crosscurrents of Tortoise or Gastr del Sol, setting their songs apart from the flock. The airy riff in 3/4 time and Kinsella's buried, eager vocals on opening song "Never Meant" set the tone for an album of soft-spoken yet high-spirited songs not quite like any of the band's emo contemporaries. The band seemed primarily focused on instrumental composition, with fully instrumental tracks like "You Know I Should Be Leaving Soon" and "The One with the Wurlitzer" standing out and vocals sounding like a floating, distanced element on many of the tunes that include them. The lilting, mysterious tone of the album is only occasionally broken up by an upbeat rocker like "I'll See You When We're Both Not So Emotional," where the band marries its jazz-influenced chops to the same kind of wide-eyed emo pop the Promise Ring was making at the time. Kinsella would go on to release solo material as Owen, drawing on the same soft-focus melodies he employed with American Football, but the collaborative magic he found with Holmes and Lamos would never quite be recaptured in any of the three's future projects. Every song here manages to sound meticulously constructed without diminishing the easy, often dreamlike feel of the album. The record is defined by a sense of possibility and youthful discovery, and stands out not just as an anomalistic emo-jazz hybrid but as a lasting, iconic statement in the often blurry history of independent music. © Fred Thomas /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released March 13, 2020 | Polyvinyl Records

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The third album from New Zealand's chill-pop outfit Yumi Zouma tenderly pokes at the bruises inflicted by 2020's unsettled times. Singer Christie Simpson —blessed with a down comforter of a voice— has said of the inspiration for single "Right Track/Wrong Man": "I've found myself... unable to work out what makes me happier, left feeling a little lost." This is low-sweat dance floor stuff, with familiar sonic touchstones. "Mirror to the Fire" comes on like Chvrches, while "Magazine Bay" borrows the yacht rock confidence of Tame Impala. Shimmering with assertive '80s-style synth and crisp percussion, the music is inevitably breezy, uplifting, optimistic; the lyrics tend to be indecisive ("Please don't leave me here or let me go," Simpson sings on "Southwark") and self-critical ("I was embarrassed when I knew who I was, so wild and zealous and overly down for the cause," she coos on "Lonely After"). The truth may be fuzzy and unknown, but the consequences remain existentially high. © Shelly Ridenour/Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 17, 2020 | Polyvinyl Records

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The album cover, which doesn’t resemble any previous covers from the group, is a nod to an obsession of different eras, from the 50s to the 80s. This band from Athens, Georgia progresses further in its artistic line (with ten albums to their name since 1997), by mixing different genres and eras together while moving a step away from the kaleidoscopic psychedelics of their previous work. The album cover perfectly reflects the aesthetic of the music, within which you can recognise the creative extravagance which is inherent to the band’s leader Kevin Barnes (particularly on wacky tracks like Peace To All Freaks and Gypsy That Remains), but also a certain level of serenity, sometimes crossed with saccharine tones and melodies (You’ve Had Me Everywhere and the catchy chorus of Polyaneurysm). On the whole, Of Montreal’s album is a sunny extravaganza of synthetic pop, with occasional rock and psych tendencies (Don’t Let Me Die In America, 20th Century Schizofriendic Revenge-man). If you observe this project superficially, you could easily say that UR FUN does its name justice. But it is worth remembering that this fun sometimes masks certain melancholic and tortured echos, like the song St. Sebastian: here, the use of the minor key beneath the bouncing rhythm is heartbreaking. © Nicolas Magenham/Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released April 10, 2020 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 24, 2020 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released February 22, 2019 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 3, 2020 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released December 13, 2019 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released August 23, 2019 | Polyvinyl Records

The self-recorded project of California musician Melina Duterte, Jay Som made her label debut in 2016 with Turn Into, a collection of select early songs that drew widespread acclaim from the indie-music press. She followed it a year later with Everybody Works, a varied official debut album that landed on the Billboard Independent Albums chart. Earning increased attention for her textured production and stylized mixes as much as for her intimate writing, she began to find demand as a producer for others (Chastity Belt, Nylon Smile). Where Jay Som improves on the follow-up, Anak Ko, is in overall songcraft and album-length design. Written alone during a week-long retreat in Joshua Tree, the home-recorded album was again engineered, produced, and mixed by Duterte, though, for the first time, she involved guest musicians, including her live band (drummer Zachary Elsasser, bassist Dylan Allard, and guitarist Oliver Pinnell). Other players include Chastity Belt's Annie Truscott, Vagabon's Laetitia Tamko, Boy Scouts' Taylor Vick, and prior duo-EP collaborator Justus Proffit. Though very much of its own time, Anak Ko's frequent, lush '80s influences are most notable on tracks including the Prefab Sprout-inspired "Tenderness" and the infectious "Superbike," a song that doesn't require a press release to identify Cocteau Twins as a model (less conspicuous is co-namecheck Alanis Morissette). Its swirling layers of rhythmic guitar patterns and syncopated drums provide cushiony atmosphere to a soaring vocal line. Duterte's always soft, approachable vocals don't seem to drop out of the song midway through so much as become enveloped by instrumental textures. Elsewhere, the orchestral pop of the Walker Brothers' inspired string arrangements on the elegant "Nighttime Drive" ("So used to feeling numb/Shifting through the nighttime drive/We'll be just fine"). The more experimental title track implies a steady groove as it traverses pensive, warm, ominous, and spacy sections. Later, pedal steel by Nicholas Merz is featured on the contrastingly sleepy, country-inflected closer, "Get Well." Despite these variations, discernable influences, and the involvement of collaborators, the comforting Anak Ko is more unified in tone than prior releases and benefits from its marriage of immersive sound design with consistently engaging songs. © Marcy Donelson /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 20, 2019 | Polyvinyl Records

The return of the Vivian Girls in 2019 seemingly came out of nowhere. Since they broke up, each member of the group had struck out on her own and forged a path free and clear of the band and their reputation. Their friendship brought them back together to record Memory, and fans of the band and their brand of spooky, hooky noise pop should be glad. The three bandmembers apply the musical growth they experienced in other projects -- Cassie Ramone in the Babies, Katy Goodman in La Sera, and Ali Koehler in Upset -- to this record, and working with producer Rob Barbato, they deliver plenty of songs that add the noise of punk to the sweetness of pop, sounding tough and more focused than ever. About half of the record is made up of songs that sound like the Angels fronting Dead Moon, their harmonies sweetly haunting and Ramone's guitar throwing off fierce sparks. There's not much of the ramshackle wandering of earlier records here though. "Waiting in the Car" hits like a sledge, "Most of All" stalks like a big cat on the prowl, and "Sick" is a headlong dash of a song with beautiful vocal harmonies in the chorus. If these kind of ripping jams were all the band did, Memory would have been a great comeback. The other half of the album adds great value and helps it become something even better. "Your Kind of Life" is a jangling, atmospheric C-86 ballad, "At It Again" sounds like a Beat Happening song played merrily through a wind tunnel, "I'm Far Away" is another tightly wound rocker that betrays the band's worship of the Wipers, and "Mistake" is a restrained and melancholy girl group indie made special by their vocal harmonies and the guitar blowouts. While those songs are all very bright and cheerful by Vivian Girl standards, they also take a left turn into grungy guitar muck on the overdriven and heavy "Sludge." They pull this off just as well as they do the lighter tunes, and it's a good marker of their growth that they can. This reunion isn't tossed off and the band doesn't fall into the nostalgia trap; they've taken the things that made them good and refined them to a sharp point. Memory isn't just their best record, it makes good on all the promise they displayed early on and will hopefully shut their critics up once and for all. © Tim Sendra /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 31, 2020 | Polyvinyl Records

As Squirrel Flower, Boston native Ella O'Connor Williams creates a world of moody, sometimes celestial indie rock anchored by a magnetic voice as airy and smooth as it is powerful. She began releasing music while attending college in Iowa, developing a thoughtful and sparse sound rooted around her heavily reverbed solo electric guitar and vocals. A winsome mix of crystalline melodies and earthy textures, her first two outings found a small fan base and some critical respect as well as a deal with the Polyvinyl label. For her full-length debut, she and producer Gabe Wax (Adrianne Lenker, Palehound) opt for a more full-bodied approach, employing a rhythm section and some rough-hewn electric grit to help carry parts of I Was Born Swimming. Recorded between Boston and New York, Williams expands on the reflective, intimate tones of her earlier releases, presenting a sort of emotional travelogue as she searches for connections and a sense of place. The album begins appropriately enough on "I-80," the great transcontinental artery that connects her East Coast home turf with the Midwestern plains of her college days. Themes of escape and movement are stitched between these 12 songs, especially on highlights like "Headlights" and "Streetlight Blues," the former exhaling the mountain mist through a car window, the latter spilling lovelorn out into the city streets. Slow-moving and thoughtful, I Was Born Swimming thrives on its central idea of rootlessness, roving through moments of heartache, joy, wistfulness, and the myriad pangs of melancholy that accompany personal growth. Brimming with personal observations and subtly dynamic performances, Williams offers a strong debut. © Timothy Monger /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released November 4, 2016 | Polyvinyl Records

After a group effort on the band-penned Miracle Mile, STRFKR took a different approach to their fourth LP. The bulk of the album was written in isolation by bandleader Joshua Hodges during a desert retreat to Joshua Tree. With a goal to "be in the moment," he reported embracing the feeling of being insignificant that comes with that territory. The resulting set of songs lays the foundation of Being No One, Going Nowhere, which also includes a track by drummer Keil Corcoran ("In the End") and input throughout from Corcoran and bass player Shawn Glassford. The more refined sound and reflective tone of their prior album carries over onto Being No One, Going Nowhere, and there's still no shortage of club-friendly grooves. "Satellite" rides syncopated bass, beats reinforced by claps, chilly synths, and warmer guitar through Hodges' delivery, airy and composed as he sings "Fall away from the edge of the world/Where I’m fine on my own." Things get a little glitchier on "Maps," while "Dark Days" turns out to be one of the brighter tracks, at least musically, with melodic bleeps and a driving four-on-the-floor. Opener "Tape Machine" was written for another project with friends in Amsterdam rather than in seclusion. It offers trippy funk-pop with sci-fi laser sound effects that manage to play right into the wistful tone it still produces, in keeping with the album ("I know your darkness better than you think"). Overall darker but still motivated by dance, Being No One, Going Nowhere hits a sophisticated balance of light and heavy, unsettled and hooky, feet and temper, with an electro-post-punk sheen that altogether seems very much of its time. © Marcy Donelson /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 25, 2019 | Polyvinyl Records

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Anamanaguchi have reached unprecedented levels of success for an act rooted in the chiptune scene. During the mid-2000s, the band uploaded Weezer covers to MySpace and released music through netlabel 8bitpeoples, and less than a decade later, they were releasing Billboard-charting albums (including their score for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game) and appearing on national television, performing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and being featured in several commercials. After the "fake leak" rollout of a video game called Capsule Silence XXIV (which caused a minor backlash within the gaming world and the group's fan base), the band's collaboration with virtual pop star Hatsune Miku, and headlining virtual music festivals conducted entirely in Minecraft, Anamanaguchi finally released their long-promised third studio album, [USA], in 2019. When the band first announced that they were working on the album in 2014, they stated that it would be a departure from the chiptune sound. This turns out to be partially true, as the familiar 8-bit tones are unmistakable on most of the album's tracks, but more accurately, it seems like the group's aesthetic has shifted a bit. While there's plenty of sugary, fantasy-driven bitpop, the group face the harsh realities of the world on songs like "Lorem Ipsum (Actic Anthem)," which is informed by environmental issues yet doesn't directly address them. The track's synthetically sung vocals consist of the Latin text commonly used as a default in typesetting, and it contains some of the most soaring, anthemic music the band has ever created, before curiously segueing into an extended dark ambient coda. The group throw several other unexpected twists into these songs, including further style switches and glitchy interruptions, but the second half of the album contains their most unabashedly pop material to date. Obvious single "On My Own" could easily be covered by Paramore, and the more J-pop-sounding "Up to You" is a reminder that there's no escape from reality. Even though it's not as long as the 76-minute Endless Fantasy or both combined parts of the Capsule Silence soundtrack, [USA] feels like Anamanaguchi's most ambitious, emotionally varied work. It's a more challenging listen than their others, to be sure, but it fits with the album's theme of coming to terms with the real world, and it's filled with triumphant, transcendent moments. © Paul Simpson /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released July 22, 2014 | Polyvinyl Records

Canadian quintet Alvvays (pronounced "Always") burst out of the gates with their self-titled 2014 debut, a brief but bright collection of nine songs of nearly perfect, sugar-coated indie pop. The band call on inspiration from the jangly C-86 movement and bands like the Wedding Present or Talulah Gosh, but also lean on the fuzzy, homespun spirit of early American independent bedroom pop and twee while steeping their tunes in a languid dreaminess borrowed from Teenage Fanclub at their most wistful. The album opens with the one-two punch of "Adult Diversion" and "Archie, Marry Me," two single-worthy songs of noisy guitars, gloriously deadpan vocal harmonies, and sticky melodies cemented in the listener's skull by the interplay between guitar and singer Molly Rankin's cascading vocals. The album is full of highlights, from the synthy melancholia of "Party Police" to the Orange Juice-esque interweaving guitar lines of "Atop a Cake." While Alvvays relies on the same reverb-heavy production that an entire generation of beach-obsessed indie pop bands has tended toward, they surpass many of their peers by delivering more inspired songs, often with unexpected shifts or breakthrough moments. This debut surpasses simply being "promising" by delivering pop as beautifully composed as that of contemporaries like Pains of Being Pure at Heart or Veronica Falls, while also tying in sentiments of punk gusto, twee wonderment, and dream pop thoughtfulness without relying strictly on the musical blueprints of any of those genres. Instead, Alvvays find a way to articulate their heart-struck, dream-like songs with deft intention and control. © Fred Thomas /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released February 5, 2004 | Polyvinyl Records

American Football existed for a blink of an eye, coming together in the late '90s in a small Midwestern college town out of a small but enthusiastic pool of young musicians. The band, consisting of Cap'n Jazz/Joan of Arc alumni Mike Kinsella as well as guitarist Steve Holmes and drummer Steve Lamos, played only a few live dates before devolving into a recording project and then silently disappearing altogether around 2000. Apart from a three-song EP, their self-titled 1999 album was all the trio left behind, its nine songs exploring a hushed, thoughtful take on the often more aggressive tones of the hardcore-birthed emo scene. American Football's songs dig deep into uncommon time signatures and jazz-influenced chords, and even implement understated trumpet and electric piano into their web of interlocking guitar runs and muted, softly smiling vocals. Happening concordantly with a thriving post-rock movement hubbed close by in Chicago, the band has hints of the same musical crosscurrents of Tortoise or Gastr del Sol, setting their songs apart from the flock. The airy riff in 3/4 time and Kinsella's buried, eager vocals on opening song "Never Meant" set the tone for an album of soft-spoken yet high-spirited songs not quite like any of the band's emo contemporaries. The band seemed primarily focused on instrumental composition, with fully instrumental tracks like "You Know I Should Be Leaving Soon" and "The One with the Wurlitzer" standing out and vocals sounding like a floating, distanced element on many of the tunes that include them. The lilting, mysterious tone of the album is only occasionally broken up by an upbeat rocker like "I'll See You When We're Both Not So Emotional," where the band marries its jazz-influenced chops to the same kind of wide-eyed emo pop the Promise Ring was making at the time. Kinsella would go on to release solo material as Owen, drawing on the same soft-focus melodies he employed with American Football, but the collaborative magic he found with Holmes and Lamos would never quite be recaptured in any of the three's future projects. Every song here manages to sound meticulously constructed without diminishing the easy, often dreamlike feel of the album. The record is defined by a sense of possibility and youthful discovery, and stands out not just as an anomalistic emo-jazz hybrid but as a lasting, iconic statement in the often blurry history of independent music. © Fred Thomas /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 8, 2017 | Polyvinyl Records

After releasing a debut album of noisy pop that was perfectly formed and felt like the work of a band already at the summit of their career, it seemed like the only place Alvvays could have gone was down. Maybe sideways, at the very best. Instead, after taking their time both writing and recording the follow-up, they made a giant leap forward instead. Antisocialites has all the sticky hooks of the debut, all the boisterous noise, and the open-hearted honesty, too. What the band adds this time is confidence and skill, gained from the reception their debut got and also all the time they spent playing bigger and bigger shows. The sound of the album is bigger and the arrangements fuller and more spacious, giving the instruments room to breathe. It's a bit of a change, but it works in their favor, especially since Molly Rankin's vocals are a little more to the front of the mix and she sounds strong and fully in command of her voice, while retaining all the vulnerability she displayed before. The album is heavy with break-up songs and she captures the varying moods of a break-up with surgical precision. The pain seeps out of songs like "In Undertow" and "Not My Baby" like a fresh wound, while resigned anger flows through "Your Type" and a little bit of hope creeps into "Forget About Life." The songs too, aim for and hit their targets dead on, whether its melancholy nostalgia on the lovely new wave ballad "Dreams Tonite," the zippy dance-rock floor filler "Hey," or the bouncing pop-punker "Lollipop (Ode to Jim)." The instantly catchy "Plimsoll Punks" is the equal, hook-wise, of "Archie, Marry Me," and there's not a weak link anywhere. The production (courtesy of John Congleton) is layered and clean, with reverb and noise used as a spice instead of a main course. Unlike the first album, where things tended to blend together into a whirring blur of noise, things are both more restrained and more exciting here. It's down to dynamics and arrangements, both of which they pay close attention to at all times. The guitars aren't just a Wall of Sound, there are great riffs, lines, and sounds that pop in and out of the mix. The backing vocal harmonies are more a part of the sound this time too, and Kerri MacLellan's keyboards are even audible sometimes. Thanks to the care and feeding the band put into their sound, Antisocialites manages the rare feat of a band following their brilliant debut with a sophomore effort that's just as special. Alvvays make it looks easy, and by the time the album is done spinning, it's hard not to start thinking about how great their next record could be. © Tim Sendra /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 12, 2017 | Polyvinyl Records

When Hazel English moved to the Bay Area from her native Australia, she came with the purpose of furthering her studies in literature. She soon began making music instead and hooked up with Day Wave's Jackson Phillips to collaborate on a sound not too dissimilar from what Phillips was doing: straightforward indie pop with reverb-heavy guitars, sweeping synth pads, and machine-driven beats, sounding like a slightly more polished version of bands Captured Tracks might sign (e.g, Beach Fossils, Nic Hessler). The difference in English's case is that it's anchored by her brightly melancholy voice and introspective lyrical slant. The first songs English released on the Internet reached a surprisingly large audience, and the release of the Never Going Home EP in 2016 gave people an idea of just how good her songs and the duo's production could be. In 2017, English signed to Polyvinyl Records and re-released that EP, plus another one she recorded afterwards, Just Give In. The sound didn't change much, though maybe it became a bit more atmospheric and English's vocals a little more assured. Her pop bona fides were in place right away, and both the first EP and the follow-up are filled with sneaky hooky songs that have a very pleasing warmth and depth. There is nothing jarring on either, and they both work as smooth background music and delightfully unassuming pop songs. The only track that stands out is the bonus track that ends the collection. Produced by a guy, Justin Raisen, whose CV includes Charli XCX and Sky Ferreira, "That Thing" is a little too slick and too close to the mainstream to really capture English's homespun charms. Ignoring that one misstep, the rest of Just Give In/Never Going Home is a strong introduction to Hazel English and her quietly impressive brand of indie pop. © Tim Sendra /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released March 22, 2019 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released November 12, 2019 | Polyvinyl Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released May 20, 2020 | Polyvinyl Records

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