It’s hard to even fathom what American Football has accomplished with their second, self-titled new album. Seventeen years ago the band released American Football (henceforth, we’ll call this LP 1) on Polyvinyl Records. At the time, guitarists Mike Kinsella and Steve Holmes, and drummer/trumpeter Steve Lamos, were undergrads living in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. After a handful of shows in basements and at house parties, the band called it quits. Their debut LP went on to become arguably one of the most influential indie rock albums of all time, a blueprint for sad waltzes and sappy love songs that came to define emo music over the next decade and half.
On the occasion of the album’s 15 year anniversary, the band got back together to play a couple shows and celebrate. Realizing they really enjoyed playing together, and that the 12 songs on LP 1 were inevitably a bore to play after a while, the band, joined by Mike’s cousin Nate Kinsella, decided it was high time to write a new record.
American Football (LP 2) finds the band sounding better than ever, behaving as if the last 17 years apart never even happened. These days, reunions have become an ubiquitous cash grab. LP 2 seamlessly picks up where the band’s debut left off. The band doesn’t try to hard to be different or rewrite the formula that made LP 1 a secret success. “Where are we now,’ Mike Kinsella asks to open the album and over the next nine songs he answers. “We’ve been here before.”
The Kinsella’s certainly haven’t disappeared over the last seventeen years. Wikipedia credits Mike Kinsella with nearly 40 albums under his belt, having spent the bulk of those years recording under the pseudonym Owen. What Kinsella is able to do with American Football is play with the support of a band that matches his musicianship. LP 2 contains all the elements of American Football’s sound that remained influential despite the band’s absence — off kilter time signatures that feel completely unforced, sometimes depressed and often obsessive lyrics, an unmatched sense of melody. Where LP 1 may have wandered, unfocused and steeped in adolescence, LP 2 contains very few throwaway moments.
Will American Football’s LP 2 win the band legions of new fans who hadn’t already studied and obsessed over the brilliance of the band’s debut? Perhaps (It would be deserved if so). What is clear is that in the 17 years since the band pioneered a sound with their unheralded debut, the scene has grown, unimaginably so. Kids being introduced to American Football by older brothers and cousins, praised alongside bands like Mineral, Sunny Day Real Estate and Texas is the Reason as the godfathers of Emo (no longer a dirty word in indie rock circles), are now forming bands and playing venues bigger than any of those founding fathers could have imagined. And whether that’s good or bad doesn’t seem to matter much to Kinsella. On American Football, the band pick up where they left off, and that’s all anyone could have asked for.