Let’s take a minute to talk about legacy. Occasionally you have bands that come together for such a purely short amount of time that the one piece of art they produce is all-the-more amazing. American Football is one of those bands. One day, bassist/guitarist/vocalist Mike Kinsella, drummer Steve Lamos and guitarist Steve Holmes came together and half-assed an album. That album was the gregarious and lonesome piece known only as “American Football.”
“American Football” was a coming-of-age album if there ever was one. It focused not so much on the future, but rather dithered in the past. Mike Kinsella’s aching vocals on unforgettable tracks such as “Never Meant” and “Honestly” grouped with the playful guitar melodies and the melancholically light drums, even a trumpet, were enough to grab you by your heart. It reminded you of high school, lost loves, past mistakes. It truly is one of the best emo-rock albums ever recorded.
An album like that leaves a legacy. While not an initial hit, the record swam beneath the surface for a few years. It soon became a cult classic, something I imagine was much to the surprise of the three members who had long since broken up and were working on other musical projects. A tour announcement in 2014 followed, and now, in 2016, we have the next chapter. “American Football (LP2).” (“LP2” serves only as a way to differentiate the two albums.)
It’s hard to follow up near-perfection. Few bands have ever been able to accomplish such a feat, not to mention that the album in question had over 17 years to ruminate within the minds of all troubled teens on the verge of adulthood. American Football’s debut means more to many, many of their listeners than it might have ever meant to the band itself. Perhaps that’s a presumptuous assertion, but the fervor with which it is consumed shows an album whose legacy may just be larger than the band itself. More people could sing “Never Meant” than could name who Mike Kinsella is.
So, then, how does the second album fare? To put it simply: it grew up. The vocals got clearer, the drums got louder and the production got better. The intertwined guitar melodies, however, begin to take a backseat with the new album — a bad omen. Mike Kinsella, perhaps best-known apart from American Football for his side-project Owen (which genuinely feels like an organic continuation of American Football) uses naϊve, perhaps immature lyrics in the new album. That’s not to say that the original American Football album had impressive lyricism. It was raw and real, straight form a high-schooler’s diary. The rest of the music so perfectly complemented it, however, that the lyrics seemed nostalgic, even too real at times. The new album is much punchier and poppier, leaving the lyrics bare and almost unthoughtful.
Despite this, the album isn’t bad. It’s not bad at all. To be honest, it could stand up really well on its own as a good indie rock record. As an “American Football” follow-up, though? It doesn’t make the grade. Perhaps the most jarring aspect of the piece is the way the drums punch through. The original album had great and sometimes intricate drumming, but it stayed in the background for the most part. It sounded sort of obscured and a little far away at all times. The new album takes the drums to the forefront and does a lot more with them. It makes you want to dance more than it makes you want to cry. The biggest sin this album commits, however, is the distinct lack of trumpet (except for the final track “Everyone is Dressed Up”).
In the end, what does it all mean? Well, if you’re looking for a good indie rock album with emo elements, this could be your thing. “Where Are We Now?” may become your favorite track of the year, while you may find yourself cringing at but still possibly relating with “I Need a Drink (or Two or Three).”
It’s a solid album. It’s not, however, a good follow-up to their first album. It doesn’t feel the same, and in a way I can’t help but feel disappointed. Yet, at the same time, I have to ask myself: what did I expect? Had this been just a “part two” of the original album I might have found myself bored and wished they’d changed it up a bit, yet with the release we got where they did change it up I’m disappointed, wishing had they stayed with the original sound. The truth is — I reiterate — that a perfect follow-up would have been impossible. We got a good album, but not a good sequel. In the end, nothing can capture the feeling that the original “American Football” gives you whilst sitting back and watching your teenage years fade into the past.