American Football (LP2)
Polyvinyl Record Co. · October 21st, 2016
By: Isaac Shur
*Out of 5
It’s been 17 years since the release of what was, until now, American Football’s only full length record. They may not have been the most popular emo group throughout the years, but they might be one of the most influential. Countless groups have cited them as a heavy influence in their music and, as emo has seen a revival in recent years, it only makes sense for us to come full circle with another American Football album.
Although it’s been a long time since American Football has made new music, this album shouldn’t be much of a surprise. American Football already reunited in 2014 for the reissue of their first LP, and have continued to tour for the next two years since. It only makes sense that over the past two years of touring, the band have come up with an album worth of new material. After all, frontman Mike Kinsella never stopped writing music. If you’ve been keeping an eye on Kinsella, you might have seen this album coming; he had a successful solo career as Owen as well as a run with his brother Tim as the duo “Owls.”
It would be easy to worry that an emo album made by men in their 40s might sound a little off. Is this really an album we needed or is it an attempt to cash in on the emo revival? Fans of the band will be pleased to know that this album falls far closer to the former. American Football explores the time elapsed between the band’s records in an honest manner. From the very start of the record on “Where Are We Now?” Kinsella sings, “Where are we now? / Both home alone in the same house / Would you even know it if I wasn’t told it?” It’s almost as if the band is getting their bearings straight on the opening track after being away from each other for so long.
The best demonstration of the band connecting with their roots while still managing to show growth is “Give Me the Gun.” From the start, there is a delicate atmosphere surrounding the song that will make you feel like you’re listening to a B-side off their first album, with some subtle differences. While American Football songs usually drive forward with two lead guitar parts meshing together like cogs, this one takes a different approach. Immediately, the drums and bass push you into groove. It’s an odd time signature (also very characteristic of AF) but Kinsella’s gentle voice fits right in exactly where it needs to, making the song a stand out of the album.
But the album isn’t without some dull spots. Tracks like “My Instincts Are the Enemy” and “Born to Lose” drag a bit long and rely on repetition of the same guitar riffs for long portions of the song. This is certainly a problem that many had with AF’s first LP, and it didn’t go away on this project. “Born to Lose” certainly doesn’t have enough lyrical content to carry itself for its five-minute run time. You would have thought that in the almost two 2 minute instrumental outro to the track, the band would do something besides fade out of the what is essentially the same track that backs the entire song. Why not use that time to explore some variation or at the very least cut it off sooner?
Their second album ends strong with “Desire Gets in the Way,” where Kinsella gives a more emotive performance than we’ve seen on the album so far. On the last track, “Everyone is Dressed Up,” we get a clever comparison of weddings to funerals via the attire worn to both. “Everyone is dressed up, everyone to the nines / Someone must have found love or someone must have died.” Kinsella plays heavily with the passage of time and the relative importance of events in the moment vs in the long term in this track by continuing with the lines, “This will be forgotten by history and scholars, alike / Another moment of import lost to time.”
In the end, this new project isn’t groundbreaking. It feels very much like an American Football album, and besides the lyrical themes of passing time, there isn’t much to indicate 17 years of hiatus. Although it would have been interesting to feel more of a gap between the two albums, fans of the band who had probably given up any hope of a new album will not be disappointed. It is not a masterpiece of an album, but it doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is; a heartfelt work of art that just wants to find an appropriate place in time to reside.
Listen to American Football (LP2) here: