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Math rock legends American Football are somewhat of a myth. Their first, eponymous record drew immediate success before the band quickly pulled the plug on their act and called it quits after two quick years. Fifteen years later, the band have returned with their second record, also eponymously titled American Football.
What bothers me about modern punk and indie music that rooted from American Football is their lack of personality. A bunch of thirty year olds singing about teenagers' problems just doesn't seem genuine. American Football doesn't fall into that problem, luckily. The new songs feel very appropriate for them, not necessarily taking up a "sad boy" persona in the eyes of a young man, but through the eyes of a weathered soldier of life.
American Football's signature style was complex song structure and time signature changes. While song structure doesn't really stand out on American Football, there's still some complexity within it. The lead single 'I've Been So Lost For So Long' - which we reviewed here - carries some of those elements, time signature changes and polyrhythms building the song's body.
Beyond that, there's nothing much left but a pretty mellow record. The original American Football from 1999 felt like it had more grit to it, both vocally and instrumentally. The guitars are incredible polished and gentle on this record, while the original record had a bit of a reckless abandon to it. What's most striking is that this album sounds pretty. Listening to 'Where Are We Now?' is an odd experience, the album opener filled with reverberating, gentle guitar lines and splashy rhythm. Mike Kinsella has a much gentler tone on the entire record, especially evident in some of the more sincere songs, such as the brilliant 'Home Is Where The Haunt Is.' This song really makes you wish that the entire record had more acoustic elements - it would've translated much better than layers of guitar reverb. The sweet intro leads to a sweeter track, Kinsella singing of "The ghost in the corner of the room / Knows what you sleep in / When you’re dreaming, of who / Some things never change / Maybe that’s okay" in a tragic timbre. This plays back to the weathered nature of the record; it's writer has been hurt and experienced life's tragedy.
There's really not much else to comment on with the record. It picks up a bit in a few tracks, 'Desire Getting In The Way' being one such example. The guitar lick is a bit more perkier, and the beat having a bit more drive. The same is true for 'Give Me The Gun', which has a bit more fluidity in its drumming. The album ends on a sweet note, infectious guitar lines playing romantically above smooth basslines and deep brass instrumentation in 'Everyone Is Dressed Up'.
American Football has grown with the times, but perhaps are a bit too run down after being out of the band for fifteen years. Their new record is by no means bad, but does prove to be incredibly mellow throughout. It doesn't have much drive to it beyond the sweet wave it rides, and it really changes the dynamic of the band. It's a confusing record that'll take awhile to sink in, but it will definitely find its place.
Favorite Tracks: Home Is Where The Haunt Is, I've Been So Lost For So Long, Everyone Is Dressed Up
Least Favorite Tracks: Give Up The Gun
Rating: 71 / 100
Who'd have thought American Football would be releasing music in 2016? Most people would've thought they were a done deal when they called it quits in 2000 after a mildly short but successful career with the eponymous debut in 1999. But, lo and behold, here it is. The band will be releasing a second, new eponymous debut (yes, another American Football) in October. You can read up on that here, but the first single from the album is worth words alone.
After being absent from the studio as a group for so long, it would be easy to expect that there would be a loss of quality, or even identity. The band has been reunited since 2014, playing shows here and there since then. Yet here we are with a new single, a song titled 'I've Been So Lost For So Long', and it sounds as fresh as the first record sounded. The formulas are all the same, but there's still something that's still familiar about it. Everything you loved about the first album is still here.
Sure, they haven't recorded together as a band, but they've mostly all been pursuing music still in the time since they became inactive and now. By no means are these musicians rusty; if anything, they've honed their skills and found their niches. 'I've Been So Lost' is a surprisingly intricate track, but the performance of it makes it sound almost easy. It takes musicianship to make a song like this not only stay true to the identity of the band, but also sound so blissfully basic.
That being said, this song is intricate in its performance, not in its production. It's barebones as it can get - there doesn't seem to be much layering going on at all. It's a cleanly tracked with two guitars, a bass track, drum track, and vocal track song. No tricks or background noises anywhere. It's honest-to-heart math rock. No strings attached.
The old habits of the band are still here - the reverberating guitars and ever-shifting time signatures are all still present, and its what makes this track so intricate. The strumming pattern is relatively simple, but there's two different strumming patterns that don't necessarily follow each other, but they work together almost seamlessly. The time signature change in the choruses are also pretty odd, and its impressive that it flows so fluidly when switching between the verse and chorus.
17 years has brought some changes, though. Better production will have some complain that the track may lose some rawness that the originals had. It seems doubtful that better production techniques will ultimately make the track less of an enjoyable experience, but it may miss that extra touch if you were a hardcore fan of the band's previous work. Age is also a factor with Mike Kinsella - his belting antics from the previous works may not be so crisp anymore; he's 39 now - at the time of the former record, he would've been 22. There's no belting or uber-emotional moments on this track, but its yet to be seen if it'll return on the album. This track isn't meant to be anything overly dramatic though; it's fine being subtle.
American Football is finally back, and their new single shows a lot of promise. American Football II (for lack of differentiation from the former) has a lot of potential if 'I've Been So Lost' is any indicator of the work to come. It's honest and intrinsically an American Football song, but also shows growth and maturity. They're not the same band as they were in your teenage years (unless you're a teenager, of course). But maybe it's better that way. Perhaps the band has grown with you.
Rating: 80 / 100