Keeping Track: Five Albums That Continue the American Football Aesthetic
by Chad Jewett
Algernon Cadwallader – Parrot Flies
While the “super-hyped golden retriever” flair that characterized most of Algernon Cadwallader’s output largely skewed toward the more kinetic style of Mike Kinsella’s earlier band, Cap’n Jazz, Parrot Flies, the band’s final album was a (relatively) more graceful, cerebral affair. As such, the record’s quietest, most languorous passages (“Sad” being the chief example) couldn’t help but resemble the similarly pensive, stretched out melodicism that defines American Football. Just as one might be tempted to describe the more mathematic interwoven spans of American Football’s sole album as “Cap’n Jazz reconfigured as slowcore”, so too does Parrot Flies slide into a different, evocative post-rock gear whenever it decides to take a deep breath. Perhaps more than sounds like American Football in any structural sense, one could see Parrot Flies as instead tapping into the pleasant, oddly bright open-ness of American Football. Both album’s have the unmistakable aura of something existing out of doors, even if Algernon Cadwallader’s mood is more afternoon that twilight. And even when Algernon are still moving at a steady pace (the opening of “Springing Leaks”, for instance, evokes a more insistent) “Never Meant”), the album’s relatively legible song structures recall the more architecturally demure American Football rather than the Peter Pan and the Lost Boys wilderness of Analphabetapolothology.
The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – Formlessness
There has always been plenty of American Football in The World Is A Beautiful Place’s DNA, from the trickling guitar intro to “Bread For Brett” through the doleful, major key slowcore of “Picture Of A Tree That Doesn’t Look Okay.” But as the band has expanded, so has its sonic palette, meaning that the The World Is’ initial post-emo olio of Modest Mouse, early Saddle Creek, and Polyvinyl post-hardcore has become increasingly widened with accents of space rock, hardcore, and folk. What has remained a steady through-line, however, is the band’s gorgeous rendering of lives led in quiet New England desperation, an East Coast version of the Midwestern dramas wrought by Mike Kinsella. Expanding on the glimpsed night-time scenes and amphitheater-stage backyards of American Football, TWIABP has routinely painted striking, imagistic portraits of their native Connecticut set to slow-dissolve guitar twinkles. Formlessness, the band’s first EP, offered this world at its most compact. Indeed, the echoes of the hidden mysteries and dramas just hinted at on the cover of American Football’s self-titled album are at times uncanny on songs like “Gordon Paul”: “I am a window. I am transparent. I am the air in which you are standing. We are the lawn and we will exist when this house is gone. But we’re not scared, though we should be scared. Our voices fill the house then out the windows and into the yard, where smoke and grass are holding our hands.” It would be folly to limit TWIABP’s fearless innovations to any one influence or forbear, but it’s also a pleasant thought to consider the ways in which the band is taking the tiny constellation of American Football and letting it bloom into a galaxy.
Joie De Vivre – The North End
Arriving in the thick of the general critical and scene-wide rediscovery of American Football, Joie de Vivre’s aesthetic of slow-phase guitars, autumnal horns, and stretched-out narratives of quarter-life ennui was more or less destined to be tied to American Football. And while the Rockford, IL (a shared Illinois suburban origin story probably doesn’t help matters either) quintet is of course more than its (largely surface-level) affinities to American Football – indeed, the band’s most recent full-length, We’re All Better Than This found the band in a louder, more dynamic frame of mind – there is nevertheless a salient link to be made between the North Chicago trio and the Count Your Lucky Stars signees from Rockford, especially on the band’s 2010 album, The North End. Indeed, part of what made Joie de Vivre such a welcome arrival in the late aughts was the fact that the band was breathing new life into a sound that was largely nowhere to be found. Gently elapsing, like a shift in weather, album opener “Summer In New London” seamlessly fades into “Salt,” both built from the same gently shimmering guitars and quaking trumpet that define the pleasant melancholy of “The Summer Ends.” More intriguingly, “Summer In New London” also finds fascinating possibilities in warm, major key minimalism, it’s cycling swatch of guitar making new, more thoughtful use of the parts of American Football’s aesthetic that other band’s tend to overlook.
Football, Etc. – The Draft
Like Joie de Vivre, Football Etc.’s variations on the themes, both aesthetic and narrative, established by American Football register on several levels. And like Joie de Vivre, we should understand Football Etc.’s echoes of 90s midwestern post-hardcore as innovations and reinventions, rather than revivals. Like the most expansive moments of American Football, Football Etc.’s 2011 album, The Draft, is beautifully spacious and warm, yet also delicately constructed, like a robin’s nest in a giant oak. Songs like “Incomplete” and “Hail Mary” offer radiant, circling guitars that shimmer and refract above minimalist drums, generational rejuvenations of “But the Regrets Are Killing Me” and “I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional.” But singer/lyricist/guitarist Lindsay Minton also weaves poignantly direct narratives around the band’s welcoming, starlit emo: “There is so much that I can’t say / So just assume this is about you”; “When I call about the weather I mean it /I s it cold? Has it snowed? / I miss my home.” Minton’s beautiful sense of balance, her pointillist knack for detail and scene-setting are beyond limiting to notions of influence; instead, it might be more accurate to say that The Draft is compelling in ways similar to American Football because both records glean such startlingly affecting poetry out of such humble materials, that both albums are essential because they glean tremendous drama out of everyday things.
Two Knights – A Lot of Bad Things Happened, But We’re Still Here
Like Algernon Cadwallader, Texas duo Two Knights might be more immediately likened to Cap’n Jazz. Indeed, over the course of several EPs, 7”s and a new, excellent full-length, Two Knights have proven themselves utterly adept at the kind of manic, caffeine-fueled pop-cubism that one would associate with the legendary early emo band that eventually spawned Owen, Owls, Joan of Arc, Make Believe, and more. Yet for all the cacophony that Two Knights are surely capable of (and indeed, Shut Up, the band’s debut full-length, can manage some serious, clanging atonality), the band is just as gifted as painted long stretches of gorgeous, placid harmony. During these spans, one becomes aware of the influence hinted at by the band’s 2011 cover of “Honestly.” A Lot of Bad Things Happened, But We’re Still Here, Two Knights’ 2013 EP, offers a number of those kinds of lovely, twinkling interludes, beginning with the whisper-like shimmer of album-opener “Devonte’s Inferno” and continuing through the serene minimalist cycling of “I’m Your Dad and You’re My Dad” and the early, tranquil patterning of “I’m Here for the Pizzah Partie.” Perhaps more than any band in contemporary emo and post-hardcore, Two Knights have created indelible art by finding new ways of approaching the ideas, sounds, and concepts established by foundational albums like American Football.