Reissuing an album that didn’t get much of the hype 15 years ago might seem as something stupid, especially when American Football was never a band to release a hit single and go touring all around the world. Instead they played some gigs in basements back in the late 1990s and then they split up to focus on their own projects. Why would the band that played its biggest concert for 40 people want to reunite after a decade and a half, when it might seem that no one would be interested being like: “Meh, a bunch of daddies with a middle age syndrome want to remind themselves their teen times…”? It is the same kind of question like: why have the same band caused a crash of a ticket selling website when they announced their first shows in 15 years?
What is so phenomenal about American Football? How did they manage to become almost an object of a cult during their 15 year break? What is interesting, their audience nowadays are not the people in their current age, but teenagers just like Kinsella, Holmes and Lamos when they recorded their album. The answer seems to be clear – the Internet. However this is not a satisfying answer, as the Internet is flooded with music and a small band from late 1990s would not be able to simply exist and then emerge as a website crashing underground superstar. In this sense, American Football is one of those few bands that were saved from being forgotten simply because their music is good. There was no promotion of the band during these 15 years. Members were involved in their own projects like Owen or Cap’n Jazz. What is it in American Football that teens still listen to it?
RELEASE DATE: 20 May 2014 LABEL: Polyvinyl Records
The basic version of the album from 1999 consists of 9 songs. The opening track “Never Meant” automatically hits the listener. After first minute of beautifully harmonized arpeggio guitars and jazzy drumming we can hear Kinsella singing: “Let’s just forget/ Everything said/ Everything we did/ Best friends and better halves”. Sounds like a confession of a man who is just about to end something. Then we hear: “When we realized/ we were falling out of love”. Tears are coming to eyes uncontrollably as American Football unveil nine stories about teenage feelings, break-ups, relationship problems and loneliness, which is basically what adolescence is about. Lyrics are what keeps the album fresh and relatable for teens, no matter which generation they were born in. Being full of sorrow, doubts, anxiety and unpreparedness for future life as an adult, Kinsella’s melodic singing is a perfect soundtrack for high school and college times. The album’s main lyrical theme are goodbyes. Not only the word itself comes up often in songs like “Never Meant”, “The Summer Ends” or “But the Regrets are Killing Me”, but also tracks are arranged in such a way that they seem to tell a full story of a break-up, by the end of which (“The One With The Wurlitzer”) the persona stays at home and starts to write music (as Wurlitzer is a type of electric piano) to forget about what happened. What I imagined while listening to this album (and what was even enhanced by the photo on the cover) is an image of a heartbroken teenager lying on a bed trying to move on. It’s September, so it’s still warm outside, but it doesn’t really feel like summer at all…
Musically, the album is composed for the basic set of instruments: two guitars, drums and bass. What is interesting and somehow unusual is that in some songs only two guitars are used (for example“Never Meant”, “The Summer Ends”) and in some guitar and bass (“Honestly?”, “I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional”). There are also trumpet tracks on “The Summer Ends”, “For Sure” and “The One With The Wurlitzer”. Guitar tracks are typical for emo and early post-rock style – full of clean arpeggios with limited distortions and glassy Stratocaster/Telecaster signature sound. Two guitars are beautifully harmonized creating lovely and soothing layers of sound, which perfectly correspond to the mood expressed in lyrics. Kinsella and Holmes loved to use different tunings for every song, hence beautiful harmonies, unable to obtain by a standard tuned guitar. However these musical landscapes would seem to slip away without any rhythmical support. This task is perfectly accomplished by incredible jazzy-timed Lamos’s drumming. Not only it gives form to plunky-twangy guitars, but also it is interestingly conducted itself. As for me, Lamos did the best job on this album when it comes to the instrumentalists.
The deluxe version of the album contains ten previously unreleased demo tracks and live recordings from between 1997 and 1999. The most attention deserving are the tracks recorded during the gig in Blind Pig in 1997. Being instrumental tracks, they present American Football as a really good live band with math rock tendencies. There are also three demos of the songs from the album. These are really poor in quality and the singing too often hits a false note to be enjoyable for listening. It’s more of a nice little gift for die-hard fans, which American Football surely acquired. Another four tracks come from Boombox Practice Session from 1999. Again, being mostly unreleased material (except for shorter version of “Stay Home”) they stand as a good proof of American Football live skills. “Untitled #1” deserves a particular attention, especially the guitar-bass part. This and Blind Pig tracks are a nice prelude to what American Football can do during their US gigs in autumn. Overall, the deluxe CD presents American Football as a well-skilled live band. The songs featured are surely a perfect gift for fans, however somebody new to this band might not like them, as they are not so catchy as an original 1999 album.
Summing up, American Football reunited in a perfect moment – just as the anticipation for them was reaching its peaks, but not too late to be forgotten. As Holmes himself said: “Obviously, we knew the time was ripe for three middle aged dudes to play some old songs about teenage feelings, and stand around tuning guitars for a long time.” The original songs from 1999 self titled album sound fresh after 15 years of laying on the shelf. The lyrics evoke teen emotions and the music is a perfect example of emo, math and early post-rock mix which gave foundations to development of the genre in 2000s. The bonus tracks are a good addition to the album, as they show band from their almost unknown live side, which is presented in a really good light. As a person who knew them a bit earlier than their reunion, I would probably buy the album sooner or later, I think it’s really worth it.