American Football releases impressive disappointment
Christian Bunker | Friday, October 28, 2016
It seems that there is a conspiracy dedicated to the failure of emo rock band American Football’s second eponymous album. Puzzlingly, the members of the band themselves seem to be behind this conspiracy. Everything they’ve done up to now seems designed to ensure that their newest release will tank. First, they came out with a beloved album that defined a genre. Then they waited no less than 17 years, allowing it to achieve mythic status and inspire countless imitators. They even broke up during this time, giving the public solid proof that the 1999 “American Football” album was impossible to top. Then they reformed and announced a new LP — and as if to guarantee the maximum amount of comparison of the new album with the old, they even gave it the same name. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Kinsella penned a review emphasizing how the new record couldn’t stand up to the merits of the first and mailed it to Pitchfork to save them some time.
Either way, I’ll be the first to declare that 2016’s “American Football” definitely did not beat the odds stacked against it. This LP fails to measure up to its namesake in multiple respects. Kinsella’s vocals, which on the first album had contained just enough emotion to justify the band’s emo categorization, have become simply weak. The production also leaves much to be desired. However, the worst component by far is the lyrics. Self-serving downer lines like “I can’t lie, I kind of like the pain” and “I’ve damaged goods inside me” may have worked in 1999, but the band and their fans have grown up since, and they need to reflect that. And don’t even get me started on the abysmal “I Need a Drink (or Two or Three),” a song that makes most country singers sound like Shakespeare.
Nevertheless, if you’re like me you listen to American Football for one reason, and one reason only: the guitars. I didn’t like the lyrics on the first album, so they’re not a dealbreaker now either. These guys do such distinct things with a guitar that their sound is instantly recognizable; several of the band’s songs have been described as post-rock on occasion. The bottom line is that American Football has an invaluable sound, and it is back on this album, even if the supporting cast isn’t.
I was disappointed to see that this album lacked any instrumental tracks or over five-minute-long songs, since that’s where their guitars had shined most on the first album. However, they still managed to find some grooves on this release. I particularly liked “Give Me the Gun,” “Everyone is Dressed Up,” and the outro to “Born to Lose.” There were exciting surprises in “Desire Gets in the Way” as well. Of course, the playing was solid throughout the rest of the album, and for all their missteps, the band made an LP that I enjoyed listening too. Perhaps most importantly, they reminded me why I enjoy American Football and why I’ll continue listening to everything they release, regardless of whether it tops their debut album.
If you like: The Sea and Cake, Owen
Key tracks: “Born to Lose,” “Give Me the Gun,” “Desire Gets in the Way”