American Football


Written by: MIN on 31/10/2016 16:13:25

Seventeen years have passed, but finally it’s here: the follow up to American Football’s 1999 classic, the self-titled, twinkly indie/emo-masterpiece ”American Football”. The Champaign-Urbana, IL-based band’s second album is, if possible, even less inventively named than its predecessor — if you didn’t guess it yet, then yes, it’s aptly titled “American Football” as well. The band reformed for a couple of shows in 2014 and has since then been going steady with an increasing amount of concerts throughout both Europe and America. Due to them wanting more material to play live, they decided to call in vocalist/guitarist Mike Kinsella’s cousin, Nate, to join on bass guitar, and thus the creation of American Football’s second full-length was set in motion.

The first thing that strikes me upon listening to the new album, is how much it resembles Mike Kinsella’s solo-project Owen. Although I’ve never ventured much into Owen’s discography, my sparse knowledge of it tells me that lyrically and vocally, Kinsella’s had a hard time deviating from the script he has been using these past fifteen years. Musically however, American Football’s new album still locks itself into the familiar grid that fans know from 1999. The songs are primarily driven by the two guitars intertwining and creating some beautiful, math-y melodies that hit home somewhere between post-rock and emotional indie rock. It’s pretty similar to the bands American Football once inspired, such as Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) or The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die. But unfortunately, much of the music’s passion, and especially the lyrics’ heartfelt meaning is missing all too often.

The album-opener, “Where Are We Now?”, works brilliantly with its floating melody and haunting vocals, with lines like ”We’ve been here before // But I don’t remember a lock on the door” brilliantly emphasizing the faults in a fading relationship that should’ve ended long ago. But ”I’m as blue as the sky is grey” (in “I Need a Drink (Or Two Or Three)”) and ”I feel so sick // Doctor, it hurts when I exist” (in “I’ve Been So Lost For So Long”) come off as too direct and melodramatic for their own good, not allowing the listener to do any interpretation for him/herself. And unfortunately, this happens way too often on a lyric sheet filled with tired clichés. Furthermore, it doesn’t really help the lines’ delivery that Kinsella’s vocals are sung without the same endearing yet nervous teenage angst present on the band’s first full-length.

Fortunately, the instrumental aspects of the music come to the rescue of a lot of the issues present on the record, as American Football’s melodies are still to die for. It’s hard not to compare this LP to the band’s debut, and obviously the lyrics aren’t the only key element not on par. But luckily, the music is still good enough to make the album worth multiple sit-throughs, and despite the fact that the songs more often than not follow the same formula (verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-outro), and that you’re rarely taken by surprise by a sudden fuzzing guitar section or a trumpet that’d sadden even Miles Davis, melodies such as those found in “Give Me the Gun” and “Desire Gets in the Way” are simply to die for. Especially the bridges and outros on many of the tracks feature an increased intensity or tempo-change that takes them onto another level, reminding the listener why American Football is still a household name in the emo-scene all these years later. And when the band strikes a chord with you, they truly shine — just listen to the last third of “My Instincts are the Enemy”, with its intertwining guitars that push each other forward, jazzy drums that create momentum, and Kinsella suddenly pouring his heart out with ”Days are nights // And nights are unbearable”.

Ultimately then, American Football’s second album isn’t all that I’d initially hoped for. The band’s first full-length is one of my all-time favorite albums, and the band was therefore tasked with a nigh impossible job in terms of pleasing me. But in hindsight, the band did well considering the seventeen-year absence. As a standalone record, “American Football” is great, but the overtly clean production, occasionally grating lyrics, and the well-rehearsed vocals tend to drag it down. The music and melodies, however, are so good that they tend to overshadow the formulaic song-writing, and surprisingly the album only gets better after a few spins. Therefore, instead of being slightly disappointed by an actually decent record, I’ll choose to be excited that the band’s still alive and well.

Download: Where Are We Now?, My Instincts Are the Enemy, Desire Gets in the Way
For The Fans Of: Into It. Over It., Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate), The Appleseed Cast, Death Cab for Cutie, Owen
Listen: Facebook

Release date 21.10.2016
Polyvinyl Records

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