Throwback is a column which looks at older albums and the impact they’ve had on today’s scene. Whether still in their original pressing or now reissued, Julio Anta writes about his thoughts on the music when he first listened to it, along with his current thoughts on the record. In today’s entry, he’s tackled (get it?) American Football’s self-titled album, which originally hit stores in 1999. It was then pressed onto vinyl in 2004.
Though no more than 12 songs ever surfaced, American Football is one of the few bands fitting of the title, seminal. Influencing hundreds of musicians over the past 15 years — only three in which the band was actually active — the nine tracks on their debut Self-Titled album are some of the most earnest, reflective and well-crafted songs I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending time with. The delicate vocals are backed with 6/8 time signatures and the sweeping guitar tones of the album opener, “Never Meant,” is bookended with the instrumental and nearly post-rock ambiance of the record’s final track, “The One With The Wurlitzer.” All employ techniques that would later become staples of emo sub-genres, arguably birthed in the wake of this album’s release.
The unfortunate fact faced by artists as forward thinking and groundbreaking as American Football is the amount of time it takes to reach the ears of those who’s musical tastes will exist almost solely because of said release. My story is a perfect example of this. Though it’s embarrassing to admit, it took me nearly a decade to finally give American Football a thorough listen — or any Kinsella related project for that matter. Once I did, it was instant nostalgia. Not for the songs, as I was only listening to them for the first time at this point, but for the memories the mostly regretful and introspective lyrics provoked.
By the time I finally got my hands on a vinyl pressing of the album, no more than a year ago, the lyrical content had struck numerous chords and gone on to become one of my go-to albums. While deeply personal and self-reflective, the words penned by Mike Kinsella are notorious for being general enough to find points of commonality with just about anyone who’s ever loved, or longed to be loved, for that matter.
Along with the physical packaging accompanying the vinyl record — which was minimal, but classic with a single pocket jacket and lyric sheet insert — came an immediate warmth to the tracks unheard in any prior listening experiences with this album over the various formats. As with most vinyl overseen by Polyvinyl Records, American Football’s Self-Titled is of excellent quality, pressed on black wax and weighing in at 180-grams. The compressed sound found on many vinyl pressings, whose masters have been lazily pulled from CD or MP3 copies, rather than mixed exclusively for the vinyl format is completely absent on this release. Not only is the sound warmer than usual, but also crisp and clear, with no pops or crackling.
Thirteen years ago, American Football released one of the greatest albums the emo genre has ever seen. Instantly relatable and brilliantly poignant, not only does this album stand the test of time, but it reminds us of how trendsetting it truly was, over a decade ago.
The album can still be purchased on 180-gram black vinyl over at the group’s BandCamp. And if you’re still not convinced that you need the record in your collection, you can listen to the entire thing below.