Emo comes wistfully of age.
American Football’s self-titled debut, released in 1999, is one of the great cult albums in recent history. A lightning-in-a-bottle-type record that saw a convergence of emo and math rock and was recorded and released seemingly moments before the band split and disappeared, their existence was low-key and insignificant, but 17 years and an unexpected legacy later, they have returned with a new album of the same name. Although interesting and incredibly similar to the original American Football, American Football may be hard to appreciate if you’re not already on board with the band, but this isn’t to say that it’s only an album that fans could love – there are moments of brilliance within that undeniably prove the band has not lost any of their unique touch over the years.
‘Where Are We Now?’ works fantastically well as an opening track in both premise and music, with its title encouraging a nostalgic look towards 1999 and reminding us that American Football are the kings of melancholia. Mike Kinsella eases out those words as unmistakably intricate guitars begin to sway together and drums saunter into a more conventional beat to open up the track, but all this is before a dive into the experimental sound and tempo that made them so popular in the first place. It’s as much an assurance as it is an excellent opener. The lyrics also set the tone perfectly for what is to come (“We’ve been here before / We’ll figure it out like that goddamn door / We just need a skeleton key”), for the emotional intelligence and awareness of American Football is remarkable. This isn’t an album trying to stick to the past, it’s one that looks at how far the past is gone and how life is now.
The band’s music often plays out like a dance with the guitars often (to their distinct advantage) intermingling out of sync and lyrics stepping lightly. ‘Born To Lose’ bounds away in evident expression of this nature, showing more of the off-beat and near-quirky guitar work with probing metaphorical lyrics (“Dead eyes, why such vulgarity? / I often imagine drowning in your skin / Exactly where you end and my faults begin”) but, despite its shift from the regular formula, ‘I’ve Been So Lost For So Long‘ is the real standout. A charming listen despite sounding slightly more conventional, particularly in its more straightforward and rhythmic percussion, this is the most confident and lively that the band sounds on the record, meaning its charm translates into a more enjoyable listen among the more dour themes and emotions.
As has been commonplace through the band’s discography, ‘Give Me The Gun’ utilises drums and bass to craft a jazzy sound, but added percussion and indie-esque riffs shake up the expected sound and expand the scope, with the xylophone-like closing adding to its dreamy effect. The record’s pleasant mellowness only continues with ‘I Need A Drink (Or Two Or Three),’ which meanders similarly to the rest of the proceedings so that, by this point the band, seems comfortable in its tried and tested formula, which could test one’s tolerance for a lack of differentiation from track-to-track. However, don’t let the surface pleasantries deceive you: this is a dark track, speaking of self-deterioration, dissatisfaction and depression – “I need a drink or two or three or four / To spend any time alone with me anymore,” “As sure as the sky is grey / I’m gonna die this way,” and, perhaps most darkly nostalgic, “Oh, how I wish that I were me / The man that you first met and married.”
There’s no true formula-smashing here from American Football musically, who have matured like a fine wine, but the lyrical progression is natural and wholly understandable. Instead of being concerned with teenage questioning and struggles, they look more to the adult reminiscing of such times. With ‘Everyone Is Dressed Up’ closing the album just like how ‘Where Are We Now’ opens it, there’s a sense of finality and closure in how the emotions of the words (“This will be forgotten by history and scholars, alike / Another moment of import lost to time”) blend wonderfully with the music.
Sure, there may be little deviation in the overall sound and it may be a tough record to truly appreciate if you are unaccustomed to such music, but American Football is a triumphant return, with an ironic kind of joy to be found in the album and all of its emotions. In a year where emo has truly blossomed and gone from strength to strength, it’s only fitting that its pioneers’ return is with the stuff that made them cult legends in the first place.
American Football is out now via Polyvinyl Records