In 1999, three University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign students–Mike Kinsella, Steve Lamos and Steve Holmes– wrote and recorded an album in their college town. They soon graduated and the band broke up, only having played around 12 shows in its original run. The album, however, gained traction in the underground music scene, eventually becoming one of the most influential emo records of all time.
That album was American Football, the self-titled debut from the trio. It’s full of emotional, introspective lyrics, jazzy instrumental arrangements and atmospheric production. The album was far ahead of its time, and yet nothing today sounds quite like it. Popular emo bands such as The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die and You Blew It! replicate parts of American Football’s sound, but they’ve never quite reached the level of perfection American Football achieved.
Music listeners around the world related to Kinsella’s poetic lyrics about failing relationships and entering adulthood. They achieved such a cult following that, 15 years after the album’s original release, the 2014 reissue ended up peaking at #68 on the Billboard 200 charts .
The band reunited in 2014 to play a few shows for the said reissue, and things exploded. A weekend run turned into a four-night residency because shows sold out so quickly. With the success of these reunion shows, many fans were wondering if the band was recording new music.
The hype was only heightened by a series of cryptic video teasers the band had released this past weekend. Then, on the morning of Aug. 23, 2016, the band finally delivered. They released their first song in 17 years called “I’ve Been So Lost For So Long.” This song is from their new full-length album, also called American Football, which will be released on Oct. 21.
Many other fans of the band, myself included, freaked out. On more than one instance my friends told me to calm down, but I couldn’t help myself. Discovering this band was a key moment in my musical evolution. The way Kinsella writes lyrics, confessional and open, is completely essential to my own writing style.
However, one question remains; does the song hold up to the high standard the previous record set? While there are some evolutions and differences in their sound, I think the answer is yes.
The song starts off with a pleasant, twinkly-sounding riff that the band is known for. Because this aspect is probably the most influential part of their sound, it doesn’t seem as fresh or groundbreaking as it did back in 1999. The riff still has that classic tone that would fit right into the first record, something no band has truly been able to capture in American Football’s wake.
Then vocals stick in, and Kinsella’s voice has shown signs of aging. It makes sense his voice wouldn’t sound exactly the same as it did on their debut, but the initial reaction was a little jarring. Not bad, I mind you, but Kinsella isn’t the same singer he was in 1999.
Kinsella’s lyrical style is akin to the first record, just with more mature themes. Now age 39 and a father, his writing takes on themes of loneliness and unhappiness through that identity. The opening line, “I’ve been so lost for so long,” perfectly encapsulates it. Instead of all of his problems feeling new and current, it describes a feeling that has been building for years.
And feeling lost is a theme anyone can relate to, young or old.
Kinsella continues this theme of waywardness with the lines: “If you find me, would you please remind me why I woke up today.”
The sentiment of not wanting to get out of bed, combined with the lingering feeling of straying off course, leads to a thought-provoking listen. It really makes a person question their motivations for doing what they do. I had both an emotional and intellectual reaction to the lyric, a first for the band known mostly for sensitive songs.
Kinsella wraps up the song’s lyrical themes quite nicely with, “Maybe I’m asleep, and this is all a dream.” He’s doubting that his life is going by so fast, and yet his issues remain. It’s a powerful way to close a song, and it really resonated with me as a confused college student who is still growing up.
The lyrics aren’t the only part of the song that shines. New member and cousin of Kinsella, Nate Kinsella’s bass lines are excellent. My favorite part of many of the older American Football songs is the bass, and he does an excellent job replicating that tone into another memorable earworm.
The bass does a great job of complimenting the guitar parts, providing a deeper sound and tone. It plays well with the glittering guitar riffs. The drums provide a highlight when all the instruments suddenly stop at once. They may not have a prominent role, but they do a nice job of filling out the sound of the band.
The song structure is tighter than ever. Many songs from the first record had a looser feeling, and some even outstayed their welcome. However, this song ends right when it needs to, concluding into a satisfying finish.
The last few fleeting moments of the song contain the best interplay between guitar and bass that band has ever done. They sound perfectly in sync, and the product is pure instrumental perfection. The band seems to be at the top of their game and ready to show the world why they are so beloved.