American Football’s legacy, arguably, exists in a series of vacuums. When the emo quartet debuted way back in 1997 from the dregs of many other high school math-rock projects, they barely expected to record an album, let alone write some of emo’s most wrenching, honest and cherished songs of the last 20 years that spanned the favour of two generations of emo fandom.
17 years on, the Illinois troupe return with another self-titled album. What’s troubling for many AmFoot fans, especially the ones that have been holding out for a comeback, is extracting the American Football of now from the rich mire of nostalgia.
Simply put, it can’t be done. For better or worse, the associations, for most fans, are so deeply ingrained that trying to extradite them would only sully the impression of this album.
‘American Football’ (the new one) retreads the ground that young Mike Kinsella, Steve Holmes and Steve Lamos staked their claim in all those years back. Birthed from a series of jam sessions, then a small tour, and then a larger tour, this new album definitely feels like American Football — the band. A track like ‘My Instincts Are The Enemy’, with its interlocking and polyrhythmic guitars and shy themes of promiscuity, could be easily mistaken for a cut from the first album.
But you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that couldn’t make the distinction. After fifteen years working under the Owen moniker, as well as accepting the mantle of fatherhood, Mike Kinsella has long outgrown the emotional aplomb that made the first album resonate with adolescents both appropriately aged and overgrown alike.
Kinsella has described his writing process as less ‘sad’ and more thoughtful. In his words, “the music comes out of me when I’m drunk and bummed”, as evidenced by a track like ‘I Need A Drink (Or Two, Or Three) as opposed to the closed-fist melancholia of losing a first love in ‘The Summer Ends’ from the first album.
But there’s a wry feeling of introspection peppered through both the music and lyrics. Unlike Kinsella’s Owen project, each bandmate was responsible for their own contribution, making for a much more energised and vibrant set of songs than you’d find on a typical Kinsella release.
We could have only hoped for more horn sections and instrumentals but maybe that would have traced the outline of the first record too closely or, at least, closer than this record already does. Take note on how every track on this album is named after its first lyric whereas the tracks from the first album drew their names from the closing lyrics.
The clean-cut and perfectly balanced production also makes the album difficult to imagine being the fusion of a series of loose jams, as its inception was reported. Especially, and to its credit, the twangy and boggling ‘Desire Gets In The Way’ which feels entirely crafted from the ground up rather than a series of ideas stitched together.
After nearly two decades of dormancy, it’s incredible to think that there’s never been a band that’s come close to emulating what makes American Football, American Football. When you think about the most influential emo bands that erupted from that scene and era — Jimmy Eat World, for example, you would expect a handful of AmFoot copycats to buck the trend and break through the membrane of obscurity.
Yet ‘American Football’ sounds like nothing that’s come in the last 16 years, or the last two for that matter. It might be cut too close from a cloth that’s aged beyond its prime for some people, but we for one can’t wait to see how a new generation of votaries will cling onto this record as we did the first.
Words: Will Butler
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