Monday, January 09, 2012

American Football - American Football EP (1998)



American Football consists of vocalist/bassist/guitarist Mike Kinsella, guitarist Steve Holmes, and drummer/trumpet player Steve Lamos. Kinsella's emo/post-rock pedigree includes stints with bands like Cap'n Jazz and Joan of Arc; American Football shares a similar esthetic, blending jazzy tempos, pop hooks, and earnest vocals into their sound. The group released their self-titled debut EP in 1998 and their eponymous full-length in 1999.

To fill in the gaps and have everything listed here, American Football's self-titled EP is needed to complete the circle. Three songs of Midwest emo, cunningly made with graceful twinkling and intimate singing. I recall a reviewer on a different site describing American Football’s music as a "walk down the block, kicking pebbles and tugging up with a warm jacket." This music does have a certain feeling of the fall, or maybe springtime, and it’s a very nice alternative to the angst-ridden style of '90s emo.

The sound that comes out of American Football’s amps is just about as good a clean guitar tone as there is in the world. The actual playing is technical, but in a very subtle way; everything flows like a liquid, heavy with reverb. Singer Mike Kinsella’s voice and lyrics are very much the same way: subtly brilliant. At first, his voice almost seems more like an instrument, the lyrics are almost an afterthought, as they are far from hooky and delivered in such a fashion that one really has to pay attention to piece full lines together. During a section of Letters and Packages sparsely populated by anything other than soft drums, he sings As a result of my history I'm afraid I'll let you down. If only we were older in a tone that almost sends chills to one’s spine.

But besides how wonderful the music is, there happens to be a certain introspect in the lyrics, thus, the angst-ridden statement above is whatever you take from it. Words written about desperation, insecurities, failure, one’s own thoughts, and aspirations are highly relatable, never ceasing to become images of self-delusion. We can relate to this.

Mike Kinsella and Steve Lamos carried on from their previous band, the One Up Downstairs, which can be called the precursor to American Football. After recruiting Steve Holmes, the band quickly made this EP, followed by their heavily praised self-titled LP. When separated, these three tracks stand alone and are just fine like that, but when they are collected with the LP, and given a good jam, the overall senses are blown, making what I consider to be a perfect album. American Football are the go-to band for anyone making '90s emo-revival music, and with artists like the very missed Colossal, newish groups Algernon Cadwallader, Monument, and the short-lived Midwest Pen Pals, you definitely should know that this music is very special, sprouting forth many children. Crazy to think that the band themselves probably didn't consider this back then in 1998.

The three tracks are "The One with the Tambourine", "Letters and Packages" and "Five Silent Miles". Each song has its own grace and security, pulling in the listener and giving one a possible type of calming quality that should be considered now and then. On the opening song, the melodies ride along and ring as if drops of water were falling into a puddle. Mike’s singing is a bit more delicate, often showing his voice hit its limits and begin to crack, but that’s what I love so much about it. Towards the end, the track slides off into a very nice riff, carried along in a distorted way that I wished they tried more often. On the next track there is a more mellowish vibe, sort of bringing the listener down to a lower level and having a conversation, but of a longing sort.

"Maybe everything is tragic and temporary.
Remember Esmé, age 13?
Already blasé and broken hearted, so elegant, so considerate.
If only she were older.
As a result of my history I’m afraid I’ll let you down.
If only we were older."


 The last track is a wonderful conclusion, gliding along and setting the pace as if it were the final credits to one’s own story. A full-on instrumental, "Five Silent Miles" is a nice bridge into their self-titled LP, or maybe the bookend to whatever order you want to list their music. With American Football you can kind of zone out, after a while everything blends together in a really relaxing way, and still find yourself enjoying the music. But, when you string together Kinsella’s words, and hear the full sentences, you find out exactly how brilliant and poignant American Football really is. This EP is short, three tracks in less than 12 minutes, but is well worth it if you find yourself enjoying their LP. The songs aren’t the same, but they could easily all fit together on one disc. And what a disc that would be.


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