As someone who managed to get into math rock without hearing American Football’s 1999 debut, finally hearing the first American Football after years of listening to the likes of Antidotes, The Fall of Math and Highly Refined Pirates was somewhat of a revelatory experience as everything appeared to fall into place. Even my undying love for Biffy Clyro’s original trilogy of albums seemed to make more sense. These confusing yet beautiful time signatures were executed with astounding instrumentation and precision that the whole thing seemed at once perfectly effortless and disarmingly nonchalant, but in the best way.
Fast forward less years than I’d care to admit and this musical enigma was back in the public eye, with rumours of a second album being quickly dispelled by those with any notion of sense, until it was formally announced. 17 years after that genre-defining record, 2016 would be the year the second American Football would grace our ears, a slight glimmer of hope in a generally horrid 12-month period.
It’s not the same, but it’s not different. Despite being unmistakably an American Football album, this successor feels as matured and subdued as you would expect from musicians who have been immersed in the industry for so many years. Mike Kinsella has been particularly prolific over the intervening years across several projects, and this refined edge to the band’s sound isn’t a negative thing. It has inspired somewhat of a change of dynamic however, with the tracks taking more of a conventional structure, and Kinsella’s vocals providing more of a focal point. Whilst the dominance of the apparently meandering instruments was one of the debut’s most enjoyable factors, this shift allows for a showcasing of a different compositional style and affirms the band’s talents.
Preceding single ‘I’ve Been Lost For So Long’ provides a charming mid-point to the record, with ‘Where Are We Now?’ striking a familiar tone for the opening, and bringing things to a subtle yet charming close. ‘Home Is Where The Haunt Is’ and ‘Give Me The Gun’ are two the album’s strongest tracks, showing a singer-songwriter and an instrumental atmosphere respectively, and ‘I Need a Drink (or Two, or Three)’ is undoubtedly the most nostalgic track of the nine as it draws on the ghost of yesteryear.
Overall, the second American Football does not seem to possess the enthralling magic of the first, although it is still a strong record, and a fitting next chapter in the American Football legacy. Dipped in convention, the album is sure to be a hit with existing fans, and an inspiring listen to those who are unfamiliar due to its emotional nuances. Whilst the discovery of this record was never going to be as ground-breaking as the first, it is thoroughly enjoyable to listen to, and isn’t that the point?