If there was one theme running through American Football’s 1999 debut, it wasn’t lost love, but nostalgia.
Frontman and de facto head of the project Mike Kinsella’s lyrics dealt almost exclusively with past romances and teenage trysts from the perspective of a slightly wiser, if no less heartbroken, early 20-something.
Though American Football’s been gone for 17 years, American Football’s sound is more present than it’s ever been on its second studio record, “American Football.” That makes their comeback (or is it homecoming?) record a bit of a mixed bag.
In terms of songwriting, it’s more developed. Whereas the first LP tended to meander or chime away on the same hypnotic guitar figure for minutes on end, 2016’s “American Football” errs on the side of indie-rock verse/chorus/verses.
That’s a strength and a weakness.
This second LP sounds more assured, less delicate. More rock, less post. Fans only looking to lose themselves again in a haze of crosshatch rhythms, twangy guitars and the odd trumpet will likely be disappointed.
But those looking for a “where are they now” comeback record, one that doesn’t mine the past but builds upon it, should be pleasantly surprised. Opening track “Where Are We Now?” lays it all out — less ambience, but more hummable tunes; drums that pound a bit more than they skitter; and songs that develop with more purpose.
Kinsella’s lyrics are probably the weakest part of 2016’s American Football, though they deal with more “mature” topics than the debut. It’s all about getting old this time around, not growing up. That’s fine — lives change and so do concerns over 17 years. What’s disappointing is, in those 17 years, Kinsella hasn’t gotten any better with words. “If killing time was a crime / We’d be on the ‘Most Wanted’ signs” is bad poetry no matter the age of the person writing it.
This is a comeback record, but American Football never really left. Mike Kinsella has kept a steady stream of solo records flowing since 2001 with solo project Owen and has drummed for Joan of Arc and a reunited Owls with ex-Cap’n Jazz members.
Just as the house from the last album cover loomed over whoever took that iconic picture, American Football’s influence has towered monolithically over any “twinkly” emo or pop-punk band of the last six or seven years. Not bad for a record that started as a low-key cult album from a tiny Midwest label.
“American Football” is a record that again deals in nostalgia, but this time, instead of plumbing the post-college blues of middle class white men, American Football reflects on its own legacy and how its members are dealing with middle age.
This record probably won’t enjoy the same legacy as the first, but I could be wrong. No one predicted “American Football” would enjoy such a legacy in 1999, either.
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