American Football have become something of a cult phenomenon in recent years. Their debut record, recorded in the late 90s and released in 1999, is considered a pioneering example of Shoegaze guitar music. Less pop and more Emo-Jazz Indie, the eponymous record’s 9 tracks captured the imaginations of an entire generation of suburban kids who married the plain-spoken-lyric delivery with complex and non-self-indulgent musicianship. 15 years later they reunited for LP2, a second record that built off the original’s legacy with a poppier sensibility and an eye on recording hits. Whilst never hitting the heights of the original, it is still a wonderfully consummate record and a personal favourite.
Every Friday I have a routine of waking up to my “Release Radar” curated playlist on Spotify whilst I attempt to wash off a lack of sleep with a ferociously hot shower. In between all the forgettable 3 minute long boy-rock and overly serious electro bedroom-pop, a familiar tenor rose through the steam amid distinctive clean picked guitars weaving across frenetic controlled drum rhythyms to ask me “what’s the allure of inconsequential love”. I’ll be honest, I actually climbed out of the shower to check my phone, unwashed soap up my nose and all, to check it was indeed American Football and subsequently smashed my knee into the sink.
I’m surprisingly crap at following new releases so this made my day. I’m now writing this (sneakily) at work and have already clocked over 20 listens through. The new single, Silhouettes, is darker in tone and harks back to the original records hypnotic procedures. The lyrical delivery carries the song through the undulating musical valleys, like a drone doing filming an Icelandic geographical survey. American Football’s great strength is their unwavering sincerity in the face of emotional exposure. So many acts explore this with a 21st cynicism that verges on over-compensation. Yet when lines such as “I’m a fool for your pageantry” swing into view, there is a melancholic sharing in the familiar experience, instead of appreciating some sarcastic turn of phrase on a subject so universal.
It feels that American Football have emerged from the long shadow of the first record, produced the necessary reunion record and are now just making music simply as a band. They aren’t an old band, a reunited band or a scarily accurate tribute act. They’re just a band making some of the best music of their careers.
The full LP releases March 22, 2019 which is unfortunately at least 3 months away, and this is the most negative thing I can think to say.
Please don’t be mad baby. I’ve just not been very enthused. Ever since the passing of Scott Hutchison, frontman of easily my favourite band of all time “Frightened Rabbit”, I have struggled to find the enjoyment in being glib or enthusiastic about my listening habits. When one is moulded by an artist’s back catalog, it is devastating when tragedy befalls them. When music becomes as much a part of our self-definition as our hair colour, and as much a part of our history as love affairs great or small, artists transcend their position as producers of music. They are a best friend, confidant and inseparable narrative forces in our personal histories. A pin on a board upon which we hang our lives.
Some artists, however, you simply grow up with. They are the neighbour’s kid who you’d kick a football around the road with, who came to your Birthday Party when you were small and always seemed to be in the same class as you. Somehow always being present in the larger friendship groups, parties and get-togethers that when you find yourself inviting people to your wedding, you can’t believe how many memories you’ve shared and just how they’d managed to become so significant.
For me, “Broken Bells” fit the description. Originally introduced to my library out of loyalty for The Shins, their music began to narrate my life in non-specific ways. Instead of immediate nostalgic memories, tracks such as “October” instead remind me of the smell of my university campus, sitting on an underground train three years later and will probably continue to do so when I’m attempting to get my future unborn child to sleep. “Shelter” is the new line in that narrative of evocative melding of experience with audio.
Broken Bells, the collaboration of Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley fame) and James Mercer from The Shins, have always felt like an unlikely marriage of brilliance. The tracks are a production of indie-pop through the sieve of a Tron soundtrack written by Neil Gaiman. All slightly digitised dreamscapes conjured by gifted musicians to send into the ether. Music made for late night festival sets and evening headphone commutes.
The new track, “Shelter” is unmistakably Broken Bells, with it’s soft nuanced production pairing with James Mercer’s relaxed vocal delivery. As the chorus hits, the similarities with the first record rise to the fore and continue onwards as it is followed by the jagged guitar rhythms that recall “Vaporize” from that very release. I missed the 2014 album release on account of not paying attention but if their back catalog is bookended by High Road and Shelter, it will be proof in the pudding in James Mercer as one of America’s most valuable pop songwriters and Danger Mouse as a world class conductor of perfect noise.