American Football: a review

If I asked you to remember the first time you ever actually gave any thought as to what high school might be like, you would probably tell me about High School Music or Sky High or something. Now if I asked you to take every dated archetype from either of those movies and look at them through the eyes of Eeyore the donkey, you would get the cleverly titled American Football by American Football. This album is the antithesis of the blindly optimistic feelings you had about high school in elementary school, and it is unflinching in its melancholy.

Formed as a trio in Urbana, Illinois in 1997, American Football formed out of a fantastic lukewarm. Mike Kinsella, Steve Lamos, and Steve Holmes were fresh out of other bands and started playing a blend of math emo and jazz in the face of shipping off for college. It would only be a matter of time before they shook the college town into awe and silence.  

This album is not much of a departure from their material from 1998’s also cleverly titled American Football EP, but almost like a perfect hook following a small albeit powerful jab. A hook that makes a perfect impact and makes you reconsider getting back up before you’ve begun to fall down.

The trio’s debut album additionally sparks an offshoot from the developing math rock canon, taking stylistic inspiration from bands like Don Caballero and tossing in a dose of Midwestern accents and post-pubescent pouting. This offshoot was aptly named ‘Midwestern Emo’, and, spectacularly, it is still kicking today.

Never Meant, the album’s opening track begins with a snippet of studio downtime before looping guitars begin to set the scene for emo history. Regrettably, like many other works of art, the song has become a meme as of late.

The Summer Ends sees the albums first use of the trumpet.

Honestly? Leans on a hoppy bass guitar groove to wax poetic about forgetting your old feelings.

For Sure, a personal favorite makes use of a simple lonely guitar loop and really highlights the albums somber tone. Kinsella croons and whispers talk of a stellar sorrow most will see as beautiful, and few will understand as real.

The album’s artwork is not spared from cult status either. The interrupted serif and dismal picture gives the music a stark visual equivalent. It’s also worth mentioning that along with the opening track, the cover has been gradually transformed into a meme.

The oddity of this record being as cult as it stems from its power despite its unremarkable instrumental tones. Lamos’ and Kinsella’s guitars lack a single sonic gimmick, the occasional overdrive, and soft chorus are the only effects that can be found over the albums 41 minutes. American Football refuses to overdo anything. The albums excellence rests in every syllable that isn’t screamed like a football chant – this is no Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge by any stretch of the imagination.

American Football effectively clasps onto the goldilocks zone between overambitious and apathetic, noodling their way into our hearts with nothing more than modest guitars and selections from teenaged diaries.