Review Summary: Nostalgic, unique, and beautiful, American Football is an unmatchedly perfect summer indie album.
Some albums have certain "time frames" during the year when they are the most affective to listen to, especially for someone who spends a lot of time walking outside, like me. "Turn On the Bright Lights" and "Boxer" are examples of albums that complement winter city nights perfectly, while something like "High Violet" is more suited to grey rainy days. American Football is a perfect example of that, as it seems perfectly crafted to be listened to on a clear, summer day surrounded by trees and grass. As neo-hippie-ish as that sounds, the beautiful instrumentation that atmospherically surrounds the listener at almost every point in American Football goes from impressive to transcendent when the right mood is found.
The opening track, "Never Meant", is the band's signature song, displaying their ability to make even the saddest subject matter sound optimistic and beautiful. The (at least) two electric guitars play off each-other cleanly, alternating between high and low harmonies, while singer Mike Kinsella (now of Owen) bellows out plaintive lyrics that, like many in the album, are vague enough that anyone listening will be able to adapt them to their own life, situations, and memories. As cheesey as that may sound, the lyrics are a major strength of the album, as upon listening to it year after year (always during the summer), I find myself able to relate them to things that have happened to me since the last time I listened to them. "Never Meant" outlines a number of key elements that make up American Football in a concise and fulfilling four minutes package: complex math-rock guitar, atmospheric bridges, complicated yet subdued drums, and lyrics with infinite relatability.
American Football is not an album that demands your full attention at all times. Songs like "Honestly", "For Sure", and the standout "Stay Home" include sections that repeat over for several minutes before the song ends or the vocals begin, respectively. These are some of the best parts of the albums to lose yourself in, letting the post-rock influenced sections of music serve as backdrops to different thoughts or just appreciating wherever you are (if you, like me, spend a lot of time walking). "Stay Home" especially finds overwhelmingly sad beauty solely in its four minute opening, before developing into its verses. Even after the intro is over, however, the guitars continue to radiate through the music, a familiar thing on this album. The faster-paced "But the Regrets are Killing Me" and "I'll See You When We're Both Not So Emotional" echo this, taking those songs from standard 90s emo fare to something new and incredible.
On "Honestly?", Kinsella sings that he "can't remember all [his] teenage feeling and their meanings". While this is another line that the listener can relate to - who hasn't looked back on their teenage years (or, god forbid, song lyrics) with confusion and embarrassment - it's clear that based on this album his recollection is clearer than he thinks. American Football is essential listening for fans of indie, post-rock, emo, or instrumental music in general.
Never Meant, The Summer Ends, For Sure, Honestly, Stay Home