American Football is a band that, with only one EP and one full length, were here and gone within three years. Despite that, of the multitude of bands and projects that came out of Cap’n Jazz, American Football seems to be the one with the most staying power. Not in longevity, but in influence. Millions of small bands are still listing them as an influence. They regularly pop up on every RIYL feature for any band who has any desire to exist in the classic “Midwestern emo” tradition. If there is a guitar that is more twinkly than crunchy, or a more atmospheric kind of sound, out come the American Football comparisons. They’ve become an archetype more than a band.
Being from Illinois, I’d like to sit and say that I loved this band for forever. That would be a lie. It wasn’t until somewhere in my early 20s that they finally clicked with me. I had been aware of, and even a fan of, the band and the record well before that. But it wasn’t until then that I felt I really “got it.” Everyone has records like that. You’ll be listening to something, and you get the classic “a-ha” moment. After that moment the record is almost more about the contextual memory than it is the music. It’s remarkable how much of my adult life has been spent with this record directly, never mind all the bands that American Football influenced.
Without getting caught up in the lionization of the band, we’re here to talk about their sole full length. It’s been 15 years since it was first released, and it’s gotten an anniversary reissue. It’s a record that has become the foundation that other bands have built their own full lengths around. It is a record that is more than the sum of it’s parts. On paper it’s just a post-emo indie rock record. There were no shortage of them in the late 90s. Braid, Mineral, and Christie Front Drive had just released their own genre defining albums a year or two prior. Another project featuring Mike Kinsella was releasing an album that year (Joan Of Arc’s third full length, Live In Chicago, 1999). So what made American Football’s self titled full length stand out?
The main thing that made the record stand out to me was the instrumentation. It was very calm, but still mathy. This stands out in an era where other genre bands were either still using punk tropes, or experimenting with a more straight forward pop sound. It stood out because it didn’t sound like other records out that year. Mike Kinsella, Steve Holmes, and Steve Lamos were able to create a wide array of textures and moods that most other three pieces can only dream of. It’s a sweeping mixture of melodic guitars and gentle drums. It’s complex, but not overpowering. The melodies rise and fall beautifully. It is almost a cinematic record. It is the prefect soundtrack to late summer / early fall.
But, at this point, we all know what American Football sounds like. The main part of the album is, obviously, unchanged. The real meat of the reissue is the new, unreleased material. It’s made up of practice sessions, demos, and live recordings. Hearing the band, and some of the songs, in their very nascent stages is definitely worth a listen. The live recording are from 1997, at the Blind Pig in Champaign, IL. There is a brief intro, then Five Silent Miles, and an unreleased song called “The 7’s.” Given that they are soundboard recording from 1997 (stored on cassette), they sound remarkably good. The “7’s” is the obvious standout though. Being an unreleased, unrecorded song makes it a little special. While it is really just a live jam, it hits most of the hallmark points the band is known for.
Those tracks, coupled with the recordings from practice sessions and demos, are remarkable if only for the quality. It’s not surprising that the band was so good, even on 4-track demos. It’s great that they sound so good. This was a band who was working as a unit from the start. The 4-track album prep version of “I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional” is damn near on par with the version that made the album. The live version of Five Silent miles sounds fantastic. This was a band that took the utmost pride in what they did.
I’m glad the reissue happened. American Football is a band that’s influence is still felt to this day. Maybe the reissue brings some new ears to the record (and the band). If not, then it’s a great piece for the fans who already love the band. You can’t make the record any better, but the additional songs are nice pieces of history. As a fan of the genre, and an Illinois native, it’s nice to see a piece of history come from here.