To call American Football influential is something of an understatement. Without them, the vast majority of bands I talk about on this blog simply wouldn’t exist, at least in the same form. There’d be: no Modern Baseball; no Front Bottoms; no Knuckle Puck; no Brand New; no La Dispute etc. The list is virtually endless, as few albums have shaped alternative music (more specifically pop-punk, emo and post-hardcore) like American Football did.
This is why I am painfully excited for their sophomore self-titled album to be released, only seventeen years late, this October.
But this sentiment isn’t shared by every fan of the band. Some people believe their first album to be too perfect, a beautiful spark in the bottle moment, which will never be eclipsed. They would all too happily never see the band return to create new music.
Now I agree partly with the sentiments expressed here – American Football is one of the rare perfect albums. Even rarer, it’s the perfect debut album. Some bands spend years trying to refine their sound to produce their insta-classic album; American Football achieved this on their first go. The opening track, and lead single, “Never Meant” is a perfect metonymy for everything the band is. It’s four minutes of emotionally-frank, brutally searching lyrics concerning a breakup layered over syncopated drums and soft, almost ambient, guitar riffs. Back in 1999, American Football created the tropes that still defines the various forms of “emo” seventeen years later. As a result, the album is functionally timeless. I came to the album late (I was four when it was released) but musically American Football is just as relevant as contemporary releases like You’re Gonna Miss It All or Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair.
So yes, I do fundamentally agree with the detractors that the debut album was perfect and any follow up from American Football will likely never top it. But to suggest that this means the band should never create music again seems immature, and shows a misunderstanding at how music works. Even if they suffer from “sophomore slump” and release an absolute stinker of an album this October, how does this cheapen their previous flawless album in any way? It doesn’t at all, the debut album still exists in all its glory. Music is a very intimate thing – with Walkmans and iPods, music isn’t necessarily a shared experience – and thus I understand how many of the detractors think any new material may detract from the personal relationship they have with American Football. But another album won’t remove any memories and associations you have formed with this music. If “Never Meant” gives you fond memories of a lost love, why would a new song suddenly stop existing strong associations like that? The subjective value of the original album remains intact.
I’m of the opinion that music only gets better, it can’t get worse. For example, I hate Blink 182’s latest album but it doesn’t detract from the value Dude Ranch holds as the soundtrack of my youth. New material can not detract from older material – it either improves upon your existing relationship with the band or doesn’t fit in with it, it doesn’t “ruin” in any way. So yes, American Football is a perfect album and I don’t believe that the follow up can ever really match it, but I’m excited to hear the band try.