Week In Review: New Listens from American Football, Chance the Rapper, & Fireworks
by Chad Jewett
“The 7’s [Live At The Blind Pig, Champaign, IL, 1997]”
There are two kinds of unreleased songs: the kind where you mostly find yourself saying “Oh, now I see where the other stuff comes from,” and the kind where you ask “who let this band come and go without actually recording this song?” So far we’ve heard one of each from American Football (members of Owen, Cap’n Jazz, Owls), the dearly missed expansive emo landscapists whose sole LP, American Football, is getting a handsome deluxe reissue via Polyvinyl Records next month. Our first glimpse at the band’s archive, “Untitled #1 (The One With The Trumpet) [Boombox Practice Session, 1998]” was an example of the former – an interesting prototype of things to come. “The 7’s,” recorded in Champaign, Illinois in 1997 thoroughly fits into the latter camp; had it ever been given time in a studio, it would be damn near essential today, as is currently the case with every song the band did record formally. As it is, the song’s winding, airy seven minutes of ribboning guitars and angular drums are a revelation, a gorgeous stretch of rich post-rock shimmer. The song is instrumental – an important thing to note considering just how much American Football’s greatness is owed to the creaking tenor of a young Mike Kinsella – except for a few parting words after the song has ended: “We’re American Football.” In 1997, they needed to come out and say it. But probably not in 2014. The song’s night-lit cascades speak for themselves.
Chance the Rapper
Speaking of unreleased gems, today also brought the unearthing of “The Writer,” a previously unheard track from Chicago rapper and 2013 MVP Chance the Rapper. The song apparently dates from 2012 an the recording of 10 Day, Chance’s first mix tape and the A New Hope to Acid Rap’s The Empire Strikes Back. But like the excellent 2.0 James Blake remix that we heard a few weeks ago, “The Writer” reveals just how strict a self-editor Chance the Rapper must be, since, like all of his output so far, the track is undeniably great. Slightly moodier than the Technicolor joy of Acid Rap, “The Writer” is a carefully layered collage of haunted, hazy pianos, boom-bap drums, analog sizzle, and Chance’s always-welcome soul searching: “I’m a writer, probably as good as Elton John / But what good is writing for if it isn’t helping Moms?”. At one point the MC alludes to “a little bit of Wu-Tang” in his wholly unique aesthetic, and indeed, given the dusty keys that dot the space around him, it’s not a bad way of describing the sonic world of “The Writer.” Even better: noticing all the ways in which, even back in 2012, Chance’s way with a phrase was scary good: “I’m an architect, an astronaut, an Argonaut”. That sounds about right.
“Oh, Common Life”
Rather than make us wait two years, or a decade and a half, Fireworks have helpfully released “Oh, Common Life” a B-Side from their great new LP of the same name, released a few weeks ago. Unlike the strident, effervescent pop-punk of the songs that made the album, “Oh Common Life” is a mournful, pensive dirge, a quiet rumination defined by gently curling guitars and dots of echo-rich piano. David Mackinder’s voice reaches for a ghostly country twang here, one that adds bite to certain line readings, quiet weariness to others. The song lifts gently in its back third but never quite explodes the way you might expect a band of Fireworks’ power-pop instincts would do. Instead the song calmly mellows back down to Mackinder’s refrain “Oh common life…”. Ultimately, Fireworks offer a third B-Side archetype – the song that complicates; the hidden picture you’d never have noticed.