Fifteen years ago, a small college band with no real following released an album. They broke up before it even came out and probably assumed any chance at a career in music would have nothing to do with that band. Since its release, that single album and the band who made it went from unknown, to under appreciated, to cult favourite to genuine milestone.
A decade and a half later, that band, American Football, got back together for a string of sold out shows across the States. And that album, American Football, continued on its long, steady journey to increased appreciation. So, this is one case where I don’t have to feel out of the loop for catching on so late. Because it seems like catching on late is kind of par for the course on this one.
The intricacy of this band is immediately obvious on Never Meant. The tight, flighty guitar work dancing around as many notes as can be forced into a bar. The precise, jazz-like weird timing signatures of the drums. While the vocals add their own light touch, it seems to me that American Football are musicians first, lyricists second.
With its faint trumpet intro and dreamy vocals, The Summer Ends takes the already vulnerable sound of American Football and drops it down to even more sensitive levels. Again, it relies on unfamiliar timings and clockwork like exactitude that make it more complicated than its soft sound my appear on the surface.
If you listen to the first song on American Football and don’t like it, give up then. Because these guys have signature sound and they stick to it. That’s not to say that I thought every song sounded the same, but there is a definite sensibility to American Football, and they fully commit. And it’s that commitment that makes American Football work as a coherent album.
While something like For Sure or You Know I Should Be Leaving Song might sound meandering and aimless in isolation, in the context of the American Football, they sound like chapters integral to the flow of the bigger story being told.
Apparently, American Football can be classed as Emo. Between this record and early Jimmy Eat World, it’s proof that “Emo” wasn’t always a dirty word. Before the genre was taken over by surface artifice and superficial costumes, it was just people making unashamedly sincere music.
Sure, lyrics by dudes in their early 20s singing about their feelings probably won’t age that well with its audience (naming a track I’ll See you When We’re Not So Emotional being as great example), but there’s always a new batch of dudes in their early 20s coming through, ready to discover this kind of thing and relate to it.
Which I guess is why American Football, and American Football, have had this long, steady rise. Every year, there’s a new generation of people, ripe for this sort of thing, going through the exact same stuff as this band did back in ’99.