When the announcement was first made that Illinois-based band, Americanfootball was going on tour in 2016-2017, I was psyched. I unfortunately missed out on their short string of shows that they played a few years back, having been out in Austin when they were playing in the northeast. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a ticket quite as quickly for any other show in my life. Here was an opportunity to see a band whose debut album (and only album until recently) was, and still is one of the most important records that I have had the privilege of listening to. I remember coming across their name at some point in the early 2000’s on a local band’s Myspace page. One of their members listed Americanfootball as one of his favorites, and one of his influences. Always on the lookout for new music, I found the name interesting, and I was intrigued enough to look them up. I was led to Amazon.com where there was very little written about the band itself, but I was able to stream 30-second clips of each song on their album, complete with a fuzzy blue sound wave graphic that went along with the music. To this day, I think I will always connect that blue sound wave graphic with the whimsical sound of a trumpet intertwined with intricate guitar lines and drums that would not sound out of place on a jazz record- a sound that I had never quite heard before, at least not from any of the artists I was listening to at that time. I was hooked, and ordered the album immediately. I continue to be just as entranced by the music today as I was the day I discovered it.
Fast forward about 12 years. Not only do I have the opportunity to see live, those who are responsible for 40 minutes of some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard, but it turns out that we are also getting an album of brand new songs. That is fantastic, but not without it’s own caveat. I was ecstatic to hear that we were going to hear new tunes from a band that I held in such high regard. However, as with any favorite music, tv show, film or book, there is a strong level of hesitance that goes along with a follow-up to something that you have connected to on such a deep level. And with albums in particular, there is always the fear of the sophomore slump. Well…
I’ve now heard the album once through in its entirety. I’m so happy that I can say this: I am not disappointed in the least. It’s great. Without giving an in-depth track-by-track review, I will just say that the album is the true spiritual successor to Americanfootball. Everything that I have come to love is there – the intricate jangly guitars, the odd time, jazz-like drums, TRUMPET!, little melodic flourishes of guitar and feedback that, simply due to their subtle placement in the mix can evoke feelings that I didn’t even know that I had. And Mike Kinsella’s vocals are on point. With a crooner like him, it’s not so much the words that he sings, but (to quote My Morning Jacket)…the way that he sings. The production is much cleaner than it was on their 1997 debut, but Kinsella’s at-times-croaked vocals can still convey strong emotions with very little vocal theatrics. Sonically, the band sounds like they’ve never gone away. Somehow, they were able to pick up where they left off without missing a beat.
Having read a few interviews with the band members over the past few weeks, the majority of questions seem to be focused on the fact that it’s been 17 years since their last release, and how they’re coping with the pressure of following up such a monumental work of art. Other questions reference the fact that the music and lyrics for that album were written from the perspective of love-lorn, desperate, hopeful teenagers (which they were – as all of us were)- probing to find out just how the band operates and continues to find inspiration as a group of guys now approaching 40. All I can say from my first listen is that it’s clear that these musicians have not lost that sense of urgency that permeated the first album. There is still an atmosphere of searching, both from a lyrical standpoint as well as musical. These individuals are not settling for easy answers to some of life’s big questions. The youthful sense of exploration is still very much alive, only the questions and observations have been refined to reflect new circumstances. You cannot really ask for more than that.
I am looking forward to listening to this album as obsessively as I did the first one. And I cannot wait to hear these new songs (as well as some of the older classics) live for the first time.