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A record comes to represent and trigger a specific era in the listener, an unchanging document against which people can measure their own evolution and feel returned to not only their own season with this record, but also the imagined landscape and lives of the artists.
That American Football’s first record continued to resonate with an ever-expanding coalition of new listeners long after their brief existence is proof of the skillfulness and subtlety with which they could express themselves as undergrads. And that mysterious aura is a lot to live up to. People have had almost twenty years to live alongside that album. And now, in a flash, their body of work doubles.
That first record was made in complete innocence and obscurity, and even naivety. But now, could anyone even count how many different instruments in how many different bands Mike and Nate Kinsella have played? The simple addition of bass goes a long way in rounding out and deepening the overall sound. Tightened and confident, they hit every pickup and hiccup, ably executing what they always intended to, but on a bigger scale.
With an easy-breezy shuffle, they balance Jackson Brown and Steely Dan with rushing, clicky rhythms under sweeping chord progressions woven out of arpeggios and harmonics. Every drum-fill is like a polite interjection, perfectly considered, but disruptive and propulsive nonetheless.
And though they summon a sustained mood beginning to end, moments of detailed attention abound: the cool strut of “Born to Lose”; the big-clap breakdown and Phil Collins fills of “I’ve Been Lost For So Long”; the 80s-radio pop of “Desire Gets in the Way”; and on “Instincts are The Enemy” even the bridge gets a turn being foregrounded.
The record opens as if daring the listener to enter, locating the space that the record exists in—a return to that same iconic house, made strange by returning to it. Mike notes the lock on the door, and establishes the central tension that will propel the record’s narrative: “what if I wasn’t afraid to say what I mean?” The confused singer battles his own appetites, though as listeners we all know that it is engaging them in battle that gives the appetites their power. War declared on one’s own instincts is the battle to conform to the expectations of adulthood, to sand down as many edges as possible to fulfill one’s responsibilities to others, while cleaving to the little bit of grit one needs to retain one’s sense of identity.