Seventeen years. It’s been seventeen years since a small college band released their debut album on Illinois indie label Polyvinyl. They split one year after it’s release due to living in different towns and although the record received fanfare upon its release, it didn’t quite hit as hard as it should have. That was until a couple of years ago when a familiar sound once again reared it’s head. It was almost as if a large group of 18-21 year olds had unearthed copies of the record’s 2014 re-release and played it to their friends. Word of mouth is a wonderful thing and time has certainly been kind to American Football with names like Tiny Moving Parts and Moose Blood clearly taking cues from the band. Though despite the cult-following the band acquired, the question remained, nearly two decades on, could they capture that same magic and romanticism that the first album brought? The answer is a resounding yes.
Chiming, wedding bell-esque guitars echo in the distance as frontman Mike Kinsella asks “Where Are We Now?” before a lush waltz-time chorus kicks in. A noticeable difference are the vocals, now rich and full where they were once introverted and cautious. For those who have given Kinsella’s band Owen a spin, this is nothing new, but had you only heard the 1999 debut, you would be remiss in thinking that the Illinois crew had acquired a new frontman, more assured of his abilities.
Another transformation the band have undertaken are lyrical themes. Kinsella now 39 with a family, has a different worldview and admitted in a recent Spin interview “What I was singing (on the first album) was naive, and the way we recorded truly captured a young man doing this thing that he doesn’t really do”. In place of highly strung, teenage dwelling we now get reflective, endearing tracks like the lilting Everyone is Dressed Up that relay the sacrifices of growing older. Kinsella describes the record as a ‘Bookend’ and with 17 years down the line, this along with the debut, are a true snapshot of his growing up.
One thing that hasn’t changed though is the band’s abilities to write indelible, stirring cuts. If anything the songs on LP2 are more realised, with the arpeggiated intricacies of the first album still intact, but whereas they would once meander, they are now structured and well thought-out. Tracks like My Instincts Are My Enemy and the folksy Desire Gets In The Way are dynamic in their memorable nature while the striking offbeat refrain of I’ve Been So Lost For So Long and delicate use of harmonics in Give Me The Gun help the record to stand apart from its predecessor.
On LP2 the band manage to employ the same qualities that made the first album unique but with an added sense of maturity and accomplished musicianship. It’s a testament to the journey that the band members have been on and the recognition for something that could have just as easily been forgotten. If you were there in 99, relive it. If you found them in 2014, your wishes have been answered. If you just found it, savor it.
American Football is out now on Polyvinyl Records.