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1Where Are We Now? (4:44)
2My Instincts Are the Enemy (4:49)
3Home Is Where the Haunt Is (3:26)
4Born to Lose (4:54)
5I've Been So Lost for So Long (4:36)
6Give Me the Gun (3:24)
7I Need a Drink (or Two or Three) (4:58)
8Desire Gets in the Way (3:28)
9Everyone Is Dressed Up (3:39)
Not long after Polyvinyl Records released American Football’s self-titled debut album in 1999, the band called it quits, having only played a smattering of Champaign-Urbana college house parties and sets at small clubs like Chicago’s legendary Fireside Bowl. Such an inauspicious turn of events made what followed all the more incredible. Over time, the record went on to become one of Polyvinyl’s best selling releases to date, and ended up serving as “one of the single most influential rock records of its time” according to Noisey and many others. To most everyone that found them after the fact, the band was no more than an apparition. The record the only artifact left behind as a timeless snapshot of a group of individuals in transition, newly discovered each year by a fresh crop of music fans reaching a similar inflection point in their own lives.
When American Football announced in 2014 that they would play live for the first time in 15 years, the built up appreciation for that eponymous LP physically manifested itself as they sold out 3 nights at Webster Hall in New York City in a matter of hours, and then went on to do the same at venues around the world. A quarter of a lifetime removed, and at times thousands of miles away from the house on the sleepy street in the middle of Illinois depicted on their debut album’s iconic cover, they found themselves playing to sold out crowds that numbered in the thousands in London, Tokyo, Barcelona and beyond.
The again self-titled American Football finds the band with new material that takes them on a serendipitous detour down a familiar road. It is replete with the swelling emotions that might be spurred on by locked away memories unearthed by a familiar scent or crack in the concrete, or the rush of warm apprehension when coming face to face with a lover left before the fire was close to going out. “The past still present tense” sings Mike Kinsella on “Home Is Where The Haunt Is,” but while the house on the cover and the title of the album are the same, they are made strange by time and new found perspective. “We’ve been here before,” he declares on album opener “Where Are We Now?”, “but I don’t remember a lock on the door.”
At a time when reunions have become rote, American Football is decidedly an anomaly. There is no past glory to relive or reignite, nor the burden to branch out and break from a well worn formula. Seventeen years later everything still feels brand new, because for them it is. They are a band that for one reason or another closed the lid on their creative output just as they were beginning an unforeseeable upswing, and are just now after a stasis returning to uncork it with the benefit of greater maturity and better musicianship. The sound is even more expansive, the lyrics less naive and more world weary, the songs have greater depths to explore and layers to peel back throughout. “You can’t just forget all the other lives you’ve lived,” Mike Kinsella sings, and every single one of the nearly two decades worth of experiences since they last put pen to paper as American Football seem to bleed through on this record.
American Football is Steve Holmes (guitar), Mike Kinsella (vocals, guitar), Nate Kinsella (bass), and Steve Lamos (drums, trumpet). American Football was recorded at ARC Studios in Omaha, NE, and SHIRK Studios in Chicago, IL, and was produced by Jason Cupp.
Listening to LP2 is like revisiting an old wound — the kind that hurts so good. It's a nostalgic indulgence that wears its weariness through a faint smile, acknowledging the way our new faults are sometimes the same as the old ones.
Like it did in 1999, American Football proves its ability to stand out in a sea of contemporaries and imitators, post-aughts emo revival or no. If an instant classic like their second album shows anything, it’s that, with the right confluence of events, the lost will eventually find a way back home. [8.6/10]
Consequence of Sound
Here is a band that prides itself on finding points of incision rather than bludgeoning the listener with noise and emotion, and they use their tools with near-surgical precision. For being out of practice for so long, that’s pretty impressive.
The album is great, important, and particularly urgent. More than simply a return to form, it’s a look at what it is to have lived a life that hasn’t pulled you out of any type of longing or sadness but has simply made the longing and sadness shift into something else. The lyrics still feel like they were scrawled on bits of notebook paper in between long nights — the kind of lines listeners pluck from the songs’ wreckage and place on their bodies, in their email signatures, anywhere someone else might see them.
Going toe to toe with a fiercely beloved, landmark debut, it holds its own. The scrappiness of the debut album is lost on tighter musicianship and softer vocals ironed out by Kinsella’s years of experience in Owen, but the ever-present autumnal sadness coursing through “My Instincts Are the Enemy,” “I’ve Been Lost for So Long,” and “I Need a Drink (or Two or Three)” is textbook American Football. LP2 is a tighter, more mature and delicate record…
American Football‘s first album in seventeen years is not only as good as their now-legendary self-titled debut; it might be better.
In sound and in concept, this second American Football record reflects a band that has aged gracefully while remembering the feeling of their youth. There's a sense of waywardness and Weltschmerz in Kinsella's lyrics, a youthful angst emboldened by the passing of time. This is nostalgia in essence and in practice, and it's pretty much everything that fans could have wanted.