FEATURE: American Football, Nostalgia, and Anniversary Reissues.

amfootballAmerican 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.

American Football
Polyvinyl
Buy It

REVIEW: Braid – “Closer To Closed”

When I did a review of The Get Up Kids’ reunion full length, I ended the review saying “reunion records are always a little touch and go, right?”, and this is another example of that. See, I love Braid. Being into the music that I am, this is almost a given. All three of their proper full lengths fall high on my list of favorite records. Shit, the two compilations records (Movie Music one and two) are somewhere on that list too. Everything this band did was pretty fucking great.

With all this in mind, I went into this EP with really high expectations. As is usually the case, I was kind of disappointed. What we have hear is four songs (three originals, one cover) of varying quality. The production is way too glossy, which is surprising since this was produced by J. Robbins. Everything is just kind of off.

The album opens with “The Right Time.” It has Chris Broach singing lead. It features some of the hallmarks one would expect on a Braid release, but is maybe just a little too poppy. This is actually my general complaint about the record in general. Between the glossy production, and mellower music, it just feels like this record is without teeth.

“Do Over” is the second track, this time (and for the remainder of the record) has Bob Nanna on lead. His voice has gotten a lot cleaner sounding. It is more Hey Mercedes-ish than it is Braid. The lyrics just make it a little too meta. Especially for a reunion record. Talking about wanting a do over and asking “so do you have another one in you like I do” is maybe just a little on the nose.

“You Are The Reason” is next. It is a cover of a Jeff Hanson song. Having never heard the original, I can speak to it’s quality versus the original. It has some piano worked in, but is otherwise more of the same.

“Universe Or Worse” rounds of the record. It is my favorite on the record. Some of Bob Nanna’s vocal inflections are kind of weird on the song, but it is what it is. Though at just short of six minutes, it just seems to go on too long. it is would have stayed in the three to four minute range like the rest, it could have been great.

I know I just sound like a bitter asshole. Braid last released a proper record in 1998. 13 years later, it is stupid for me to expect them to sound the same. I know it makes sense that this sounds like a Hey Mercedes record more than “traditional” Braid record. It all boils down to expectations, and mine were way too high. Who knows, maybe my opinion will change after a few more listens. But, for now, I am just kind of disappointed. To draw a comparison to a band that existed in the same scene, Closer to Closed is to Braid as Wood/Water is to The Promise Ring. It is not a bad record, it just is not what I was stoked to hear.

Maybe I will start being a little more wary of reunion records.

Braid (Official)
Buy It (Polyvinyl Records)