American Football [Deluxe Edition]
Polyvinyl Records, 2014
Review by Kent Manthie
After the stillborn The One Upstairs imploded, resulting in only a 7” release of three songs (available on CD now too), Mike Kinsella and One Upstairs drummer Steve Lamos and the former guitar player for The Geese, Steve Holmes got together and formed American Football. The first thing they did was put out an eponymous EP, sans bass and then they did their great full-length debut CD, also eponymous in name, in 1999. The CD was originally a nine-song album, full of great indie rock, “math rock”; they’ve also been labeled as “emo”, although, maybe it’s just that I don’t like the connotation of being known as “emo”, but I would’ve never even thought of them as “emo”. Whatever one calls it, American Football is a terrific album.
About a month ago, Polyvinyl Records announced the impending release of a “deluxe” edition of American Football that includes 10 extra songs. There’s a couple live cuts, from a show at the Blind Pig, in Champaign, IL, as well as some alternative versions of some of the original songs that were tagged as “Boombox Practice Session” as well as three untitled songs (“Untitled #1”, “Untitled #2” and “Untitled #3”) and to round out the album, there are some 4-track demos and the finale is another live tune from the Blind Pig, “The 7s”.
If you haven’t heard American Football before, I would highly recommend it. It may now be 15 years old, but it is not dated or hackneyed. Like the other Kinsella projects (both Mike and Tim), all their music is in a kind of timeless vacuum that doesn’t grow old and the variety of styles they go through make their output exciting and always something to look forward to.
It’s great that I get a chance to review this album, as I wasn’t writing reviews back in 1999. 15 years later, American Football still stands up as a great album. It isn’t dated or “out of style”. I still listen to it a lot and it’s a really great work. It has this semi-melancholy overtone overall without being depressing or full of faux-angst. The music is light and airy, in ambiance, but well-constructed, breezy and a pleasure to hear. The lyrics are of a somewhat personal, introspective sort, talking about relationships, reflection, self-awareness, regrets, past pleasures and the like.
After the original nine songs from American Football‘s 1999 album, this re-release features 10 extra tracks – some of them live cuts from The Blind Pig in Champaign, IL, three untitled songs parenthetically described as “Boombox Practice Session – 1998” as well as a version of “Stay Home” which is also among the “Boombox Practice Session” tunes. There’s also a couple 4-track “album prep” versions of songs, including, “Never Meant”, “But the Regrets are Killing Me” “I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional”. The new “Deluxe Edition” ends with a song called “The 7s”, which is another live cut from a performance at the aforementioned Blind Pig in Champaign.
A couple years before American Football was originally released, ¾ of the band tried working as The One Up Downstairs, which never really got off the ground, or at least, didn’t get past the recording of a 3-song 7” that’s been released on CD as well. The songs on The One Up Downstairs 7” are not unlike what American Football would be.
All members have had other musical connections, Mike Kinsella being one of the most noted – he was one of the members of the legendary Cap’n Jazz with his brother Tim, Victor Villarreal, Sam Zurick and Davey von Bohlen. Cap’n Jazz fell apart but was later put together again but this time as Joan of Arc and minus Von Bohlen, who went on to form The Promise Ring. Besides Joan of Arc, there has been myriad other projects that various once and future members of JOA were part of, including the very groovy Friend/Enemy, whose album 10 Songs is a pleasure to listen to – my favorite being “Teeny Comealong”, then there was Make Believe, who’ve put out 3 CDs, Love of Everything and the band Euphone, which Tim Kinsella has been a part of. So there’s this little axis of Chicago/Champaign based bands/side bands, etc. The most prolific of them all has been Joan of Arc, who’ve released a large catalog of albums. The one good thing about so many different names featuring similar people is that they don’t all sound like one band in different guises. They’ve done their best to branch out and make each individual project sound unique apropos of Joan of Arc. Also, Mike Kinsella’s been releasing albums under the name Owen since the early 2000s. Owen is a kind of one-man-band, showcasing Mike’s work – his lyrics, his music – he really is quite a good guitarist and a good drummer.
So, if you are a big fan of this scene I’m talking about, or if you’d like to get turned on to something new (to you) because you’re burned out from the typical radio-heavy rotation junk, etc, then check this album out and you can branch out and find out all the other connections related to the Kinsellas and their wonderful, avant-garde, abstract worded music. Even if you already have the original American Football, you’ll be happy with this new edition, with the 10 extras on it – all the live stuff, the practice sessions and “The 7’s” – the last track that I mentioned – it’s a 7:26 live cut that isn’t on the original album and is an instrumental work – not an improv jam, but what sounds like a tight, scored, precise song, recorded in 1997 in Champaign, IL. Yes, all the live Blind Pig cuts are from 1997, two years before the album came out; the practice sessions stem from 1998 as the 4-track “album prep” songs are right before the recording, in 1999. “The 7s” is a nice, instrumental interlude, a nice way to end the album. It was recorded quite well; as far as the live-ness goes, the music stands out and doesn’t sound tinny or far away. Then, at the end of the song, you hear Mike say “Thank you, we’re called American Football” and that’s it. So, I hope this new version of a 15-year old cult-classic in music both elates fans as well as finds some new ears to turn on. -KM.