AMERICAN FOOTBALL (II) by American Football
Genre: Midwest Emo
Favorite Songs: “My Instincts Are The Enemy,” “Born To Lose,” “I’ve Been So Lost For So Long,” “I Need A Drink (Or Two Or Three),” “Desire Gets In The Way”
If you’ve ever self-identified as “emo” at any point in your life, there’s an 85% chance that you’ve cried to an American Football song. For me, it was “Never Meant.” As a stupid angsty teen I sat on my bed as the “grandfather of emo” Mike Kinsella crooned his way through my speakers, singing of broken promises and failed relationships. In 1999, American Football, with their math rock-esque riffs and their lyrics that sound like diary entries turned into spoken word poems, released an album that was reflective of what it meant to come-of-age and be given a voice for the first time.
In 2014, when American Football announced a reunion tour, I was more excited than skeptical. Despite being aware of the typical apprehensions people have when “the boys get the band back together again,” I was ready to jump at the chance to relive parts of my adolescence and cry in a room full of equally sad swaying bodies. When I say cry I don’t mean in a sobbing, I hate my life kind of way, but in the way that you cry from both thankfulness and nostalgia. When I actually did get the chance to see the band live there were no tears, only lots of nostalgia. It felt like completing an emo pilgrimage and being welcomed home.
Now some 17 years since the release of the band’s self-titled LP, American Football has graced us with a follow up self-titled LP. Though they initially announced that the reunion tour would not beget more music, it was bound to happen eventually. If you’re an old fan, upon hearing of a new album, you could have been eager to connect to something greater than yourself again, or worried that the band wouldn’t be emo anymore and everything as you know it would implode. After a few confused listens, this album lies somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. It doesn’t feel familiar, so you won’t be getting that old thing back, but you do know for sure that American Football is still pretty emo, and that’s a little comforting, though at times concerning.
LP 2 is what happens when sad kids turn into sad adults. From the moment the first track, “Where Are We Now?,” begins to play, it’s impossible not to meet the singer’s confusion with some of your own. The first thirty seconds of the song sound nearly identical to Turnover’s “Dizzy On The Comedown,” and when you catch the first glimpse of Kinsella’s voice you know there is no denying that the band has aged along with their sound.
With a debut so strong, it’s pretty natural to want to draw comparisons between the follow-up and the debut. In comparison, LP2 is docile, featuring less angst and more existential despair, begging the question: “Is this what happens when you grow up?” With lyrics like “Give me the gun I don’t care if it’s not loaded” on “Give Me The Gun,” and “I had the longest day I’m as blue as the sky is grey,” “I need a drink or two or three or four to spend any time with me alone anymore,” and “I can’t break this bender to it I surrender” on “I Need A Drink (Or Two Or Three),” I couldn’t help but question if these sentiments are contrived or if these dudes really need to seek some help.
Though the differences from the first album make up large parts of the second album’s character, LP2 shines its brightest when it does strike familiar chords in the listener. The horns on the closing track “Everyone Is Dressed Up” sound like the ones you know and love, making the song feel like a nod to fans familiar with American Football’s first venture. Most of the moments that feel the most comfortable come at points where you don’t hear any lyrics, which may be a bit troubling, seeing as the album is pretty lyric heavy.
While LP2 doesn’t feel like an attempt to make money and capitalize off of the popularity of emo music, the essence of the album certainly feels different. The foreign essence of the album has everything to do with the fact that the motivation for its creation isn’t some grand epiphany that music could be a vessel for their angst. This feels like an album made simply because the band could make it, and one major difference between hearing this album and hearing the first is that most listeners already know what American Football is capable of. If you’re expecting to get a repeat of the first album, you’ll surely be disappointed. If you take the album for what it is, there’s a tenacity you can appreciate and even some lyrics you may be able to relate to. Ultimately, it’s not a bad album, it’s just not as magical as the first.