American Football - American Football (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

American Football

American Football (2016)


When it comes to emo, American Football are one of the bands that'll forever be mentioned as genre-defining and generation-inspiring. Their 1999 album (and for me, "Never Meant") will always be timeless and untouchable. When the band called it quits, I kept following lead vocalist, Mike Kinsella, and he continued to churn out some of my favorite music to this very day with his solo project, Owen, as well as Their / They're / There with fanboy, Evan Weiss. He's right up there for me with Conor Oberst and Geoff Rickly as modern frontmen who always deliver. So it definitely was a task writing this as I sat with this record, also titled American Football, for over a month. From the teasers to the album cover, the nostalgia really proved overwhelming but when the dust settles, the record doesn't quite recapture the magic of old. Is it a bad record? No. But it lacks the imagination and vibrancy that 1999 had. 

Let's get one thing straight. Kinsella's writing, as always, is emotionally heartwrenching and all heart-and-soul. While their music was tortured, angsty teen narratives back then, the pain here is of a man -- older and wiser with life. These words mix well with the melodic, twinkly and sharp guitars on songs like "Desire Gets In The Way" and "Give Me The Gun". These songs, wrapped in warm tight percussive beats, would throw you back for sure as they really remind you of why you fell in love with AF in the first place. They paint vivid pictures of the harshness of life as opposed to back then when the band drew you sketches of teenage heartbreak. These are what I expected more of. Novels. Then, there are the songs that feel like Owen but with a band. Not too bad, not too good. Just there. "Home Is Where The Haunt Is" is an example of this. Somewhat minimal but unsure which strength of the band to play up. But like I said, passable filler. 

However, things fall apart are where the band feels scared to venture into new territory. At these points, you can sense that they want to break free from the shackles of being too reserved and too subtle but they decide to pull away at the last minute. "Born To Lose" and "I Need a Drink (Or Two or Three)" are such items, which are quite forgettable. These songs lack any character and fail to imprint whatsoever.  Whereas the music they made back then sounded fearless and free, this time around, quite a bit feels flat, uninspired and boring at way too many junctures. American Football fail to take risks sadly with these songs coming off rigid and formulaic. I didn't expect a full-blown evolution nor did I expect them to really regurgitate the past. Honestly though, I'd have settled for either rather than this in-between, which when it tries, it succeeds but when it doesn't, it really crashes into the ground face first. The 1999 album was always going to be a tall order to live up to but even in falling short, you'll still be able to latch onto a couple songs here that'll make you still very happy that American Football are alive and kicking.