Anyone who knows their stuff about emo knows American Football. Formed by Mike Kinsella in 1997 (formerly a member of other highly regarded acts Cap’n Jazz and Joan Of Arc), the band’s self-titled album in 1999 is often considered one of the seminal albums of the genre’s history, whose influence would be mined / ripped off by countless pretenders years later for everything that it’s worth. Even today it’s still held in such tremendously high regard, all skittering, spindly guitar lines and winding soundscapes that would do nothing to suggest the melodic, pop-fuelled onus put on the genre in its later incarnations.
Not only that, but it’s an album that earned the band a cult-like following, and a surprisingly dedicated one at that, given that its similarly self-titled follow-up is only just being released now, seventeen years later, and with the amount of groundswell that’s been building underneath this album, especially from those outside the mainstream, it’s an impressive feat in anyone’s books. Though, this album does beg the question whether over a decade and a half of waiting was worth it, especially considering how beige and uninteresting the final product is. And for a band that never had much in the way of dynamism to begin with, that’s a problem, and one that seems to have been taken completely out of the equation here.
The main factor is the removal of the prominent, spidery math-rock guitars, instead straightening them out for something closer to plateauing, barren indie-rock in the vein of earlier Coldplay. It’s not a good fit, only highlighting how meek Mike Kinsella’s vocals can actually sound and making the whole thing sound so distant and cold. It’s not completely unworkable, especially when some very slight angularity is fed into it like on Born To Lose or Desire Gets In The Way, but the rest of these nine tracks feel so passive and uninteresting that you’re unlikely to remember a single note by the time you reach the end. It doesn’t even feel as though there’s any latent quirkiness here, just wire-thin guitar lines floating aimlessly, but without the necessary power to hit and stick.
To give American Football credit, this album does have its uses, namely that in can sound beautiful as background music. As dubious a merit that may be, the twinkling guitars on Give Me The Gun and the hushed softness of My Instincts Are The Enemy show an intricacy and almost score-like tendency that slink away into the background without ever being invasive to the primary consciousness. This may be an album barren of any real enrapturing qualities, but at the very least it sounds pleasant on impact, and it may be one of the few occasions where a lack of total focus actually gleans more from this album than scrutinising it.
But again, for an album that’s taken seventeen years to surface, it’s not unreasonable to want more than that. It didn’t have to be the same cult classic that their debut was, but just something a bit more interesting than this would have sufficed. And that’s really the only thing to note about this album – how much it completely flatlines. There’s nothing so good it makes you want to sing its praises from the high heavens, or so bad that you can relish ripping it to shreds – it’s just as plain and unfurnished as the foyer on its artwork. Diehard American Football fans may be the only ones who’ll really ‘get it’, but seventeen years to appeal to one niche group is hardly the strongest game plan.
For fans of: Mineral, Algernon Cadwallader, Owen
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘American Football’ (LP2) by American Football is out now on Wichita Recordings / Polyvinyl Records.