American Football (LP 2)
Seventeen years ago, one of the greatest emo songs was released. “Never Meant”, an emo anthem—if there’s ever one—about relationship that ends and its fallout, embroidering the true spirit of the late 1990s emo movement. American Football’s self-titled debut album appeared at the end of the golden age of emo, and it didn’t get the reception as warm as “Never Meant”, but the fact that American Football stood against test of time is a proof that this is a stupendous album. Fast forward to 2014, American Football is reissued and it gains cult-following, where people begin to appreciate the greatness of this album. American Football’s reissue of their debut album couldn’t take place in more precise time as it’s released amidst the wave of emo revival that has been inconspicuously existent for the past few years, marked by the finest sound of The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die or The Hotelier as the pioneers of this revival. Fast forward again to 2016, seventeen years later, the second American Football‘s album is released.
The 2016 American Football is not the 1999 American Football, that’s for sure. The Illinois legendary emo band has acquired seventeen years of life experience and their maturity is clearly represented in their second self-titled album. Yet, American Football (LP 2) feels like an old friend, it still has familiar tune that tickles your ears and is able to invoke our remembrance of young days. Mike Kinsella, his brother, Nate Kinsella, Steve Holmes, and Steve Lamos all indeed grow up and mature, after all seventeen years are not short time, and they all grow up alongside us.
The main feature that you may first notice is probably how different Kinsella’s voice is. In their second album, Kinsella’s voice is more throaty, flaunting his solo project Owen-acquired voice, but it sounds so vulnerable at the same time. In addition, their lyrics are much more trenchant and painful. “I often imagine drowning in your skin, exactly where you end and my faults begin”, Kinsella sings in “Born To Lose”, as he becomes the person who he is not.
But, that’s probably the only obvious thing that distinguishes American Football’s first album and their sophomore. You can still hear and watch how some of the things stay the same. How they love to use house as metaphor, for example. They still use typical suburban house for the cover of their album. While they only show the exterior of an Illinois-two-story house in the first album, they show the interior of the house. It’s like a parable that somehow they finally are courageous enough to show the real side of American Football, the inside and the intimate side of theirs. Other than that, they use house as a metaphor of the opening of the album, “Where Are We Now”. Above Holmes’ lush guitar string, Kinsella feels the sense of entrapment, like being trapped inside a house, and as he tries to break down the wall with “skeleton key”, he begins to realize that all of its effort is useless. The ending tastes bitter, but this bitter taste has become the common theme in American Football’s songs, like in “Give Me The Gun”, where Kinsella decides to leave the fate of the characters unknown inside a house; we never know whether the gun is triggered or not. Another example how American Football loves to use house as their root theme also can be shown in “Home Is Where The Haunt Is”. when house is usually associated with warmth and chumminess, it’s interesting how all house that American Football uses, on the contrary, feels empty, distant and cold.
Compared to their debut album, there may not be much dynamic in American Football (LP 2), as all of the songs share the same somber atmosphere, between Kinsella’s and Holmes’ break-up string or Lamos’ tranquilizing drumbeat. It all shares the same formula, but they effortlessly make this album interesting and consonant with their grown-up listeners. The third single of American Football (LP 2), “Desire Gets In The Way”, the most “cheerful” of them all, reminds us of their masterpiece, “Never Meant”. It almost doesn’t fit to the album, but the track can be deemed as a memorabilia from their first album. It’s impressive, while in their late 30s and 40s, American Football is still able to sense people’s angst. Yet, instead of teenage angst, in their second album, American Football proves that middle-age angst is a real thing, and it’s surprisingly relatable to their listener.
Everyone usually never bats an eye for the reunion album of an old band. American Football’s decision to reunite and release their long anticipated second album is shadowed by that paradigm. However, after listening to American Football (LP 2), much like The Avalanches‘ Wildflower, it becomes the album that works.