Despite releasing just a single self-titled studio album during their rather brief lifespan, American Football certainly left their mark on the landscape of late 90’s indie rock. Formed in 1997 in Illinois and borne out of the same Midwestern scene that gave birth to bands such as Braid, The Promise Ring and Jimmy Eat World, American Football maintained their emo roots with confessional song writing while managing to create a mellower, more relaxing sound more akin to post-rock and math rock, similar to bands such as fellow Illinoisans Tortoise.
To clear things up quickly, do not let the dropping of the word ‘emo’ put you off this record. Within the first minute of album opener and definite highlight Never Meant, the incredible musicianship on display immediately hooks you in and disparages any fears you might have of having a Dashboard Confessional style whinefest on your hands. The beautiful picked dual guitar work of Mike Kinsella and Steve Holmes is mesmerising and is accompanied by the brilliantly technical drumming of Steve Lamos, who impressively stands out on such a mellow album. Kinsella’s vocals break up sprawling instrumental interludes, and his calm delivery perfectly matches the music. The technical skill of the band is seen often throughout the rest of the album, with changes in time signatures and some great drum rhythms, and the way these elements are put together to create such an easy listening and relaxing album is quite outstanding. The sound is diversified with the use of trumpets, most effectively used in the sombre The Summer Ends, in which Kinsella examines the inevitable ending of a summer relationship.
Kinsella’s lyrics are also a definite highlight and greatly add to the wholeness of this album. The lyrical themes can be rather thin at times, mainly about lost and soon-to-be lost loves, but his direct and sincere lyrics along with his delivery surrounding the lush instrumentation works. He successfully walks the thin line between being emotive and coming across as a self-important arsehole such as many people who get lumped into the ‘emo singer/songwriter’ category.
This is definitely an album to be listened to from start to finish. Standing at 9 songs and just 40 minutes, it’s very cohesive with absolutely no filler. It flows from one song to the next better than any album I know, and is brought to a close by the delightful trumpet-filled instrumental The One with the Wurlitzer. One could definitely criticise this album for being a tad repetitive and a little boring if you like wild stylistic changes or require rapid changes of pace within an album to stay interested, but this isn’t an album to make you jump out of your chair; it’s a relaxing, chilled experience.
American Football would quietly dissolve in 2000 without recording since the album was released, with Mike Kinsella going solo as ‘Owen’ and never coming anywhere near the same standard while the rest of the band faded into obscurity. Fortunately though, they left behind one of the great forgotten treasures of 90’s indie rock.