Illinois emo/math rockers American Football released their self-titled debut album in 1999. It has gone on to become what many critics and fans deem to be one of the defining albums of the emo genre, and rightly so.
American Football has, in time, achieved cult status. Aided by the break-up of the band in the aftermath of the album’s release, these timeless songs are there to be made your own, as each allows the listener to interpret them as they will.
The songwriting of Mike Kinsella, who at the time was into “super sad shit“, never fails to captivate. Rooted in the confessional style emo is so well-known for, these songs resonate with you on a personal level. You know the scenarios, the people, the moments and emotions.
In ‘Honestly?’, for instance, Kinsella sings of teenage emotions; “Honestly I can’t remember teen dreams/All my teenage feelings and the meanings/They seemed too see-through to be true“. Move on to ‘I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional’ (a beauty) and you get “If you’re so prone/To accidents/And misunderstandings/You may accidentally/Misinterpret honesty/For selfishness“, a summary of a situation everyone encounters.
The song which has risen above all others, it seems, is ‘Never Meant’, the album’s opening track. Listed by Stereogum as one of the “30 Essential Songs From The Golden Era Of Emo”, ‘Never Meant’ is the song that captuers the identity of American Football perfectly. An enduring blend of emo and math rock, Kinsella’s songwriting is at its most cutting and sentimental here: “Let’s just forget everything said/And everything we did/Best friends and better halves/Goodbyes/And the autumn night when we realized/We were falling out of love”.
‘The Summer Ends’ is another track whose story you can conclude for yourself as its ending is quite ambiguous. American Football do save time here for a little fun, with the instrumental ‘You Know I Should Be Leaving Soon’ splitting the album down the middle, giving your emotions some much-needed respite.
Even the album cover hooks you; music journalist Sean Neumann wrote in Vice how the house has now become a music landmark, with emo fans flocking to it and leaving carvings on the footpath outside. I can’t imagine that annoys the neighbours…
American Football is a seminal album in the Midwest and broader emo genre. Listen to more recent emo bands such as The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, The Hotelier, and Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) and you will instantly notice the influence of the album and the band.
Along with the likes of Mineral and Sunny Day Real Estate to name a few, the music of American Football has proven eternal. Listening to it now, you’ll hardly believe it was released in 1999. Why? Because you’re not thinking about it. Instead, you’re lost in in the notion that this album it was written for you and you alone.
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Featured image: American Football