Not long after Polyvinyl Records released American Football’s self-titled debut album in 1999, the band called it quits, having only played a smattering of Champaign-Urbana college house parties and sets at small clubs like Chicago’s legendary Fireside Bowl before taking their own divergent post-undergrad paths. Such an inauspicious turn of events made what followed all the more incredible. Over time, the record went on to become one of Polyvinyl’s best selling releases to date, and ended up serving as “one of the single most influential rock records of its time” according to Noisey and many others. “No other flash-in-the-pan band seems to have connected so strongly and with as many people as American Football did,” wrote Stereogum. To most everyone that found them after the fact, the band was no more than an apparition. The record the only artefact left behind as a timeless snapshot of a group of individuals in transition, newly discovered each year by a fresh crop of music fans reaching a similar inflection point in their own lives.
When American Football announced in 2014 that they would play live for the first time in 15 years, the built up appreciation for that eponymous LP physically manifested itself as they sold out 3 nights at Webster Hall in New York City in a matter of hours, and then went on to do the same at venues around the world. A quarter of a lifetime removed, and at times thousands of miles away from the house on the sleepy street in the middle of Illinois depicted on their debut album’s iconic cover, they found themselves playing to sold out crowds that numbered in the thousands in London, Tokyo, Barcelona and beyond.
The forthcoming album American Football finds the band with new material that takes them on a serendipitous detour down a familiar road. It is replete with the swelling emotions that might be spurred on by locked away memories unearthed by a familiar scent or crack in the concrete, or the rush of warm apprehension when coming face to face with a lover left before the fire was close to going out. “The past still present tense” sings Mike Kinsella on 'Home Is Where The Haunt Is', but while the house on the cover and the title of the album are the same, they are made strange by time and new found perspective. “We’ve been here before,” he declares on album opener 'Where Are We Now?', “but I don’t remember a lock on the door.”
At a time when reunions have become rote, American Football is decidedly an anomaly. There is no past glory to relive or reignite, nor the burden to branch out and break from a well worn formula. Seventeen years later everything still feels brand new, because for them it is. They are a band that for one reason or another closed the lid on their creative output just as they were beginning an unforeseeable upswing, and are just now after a stasis returning to uncork it with the benefit of greater maturity and better musicianship. The sound is even more expansive, the lyrics less naive and more world weary, the songs with greater depths to explore and layers to peel back throughout. “You can’t just forget all the other lives you’ve lived,” Kinsella sings, and every single one of the nearly two decades worth of experiences since they last put pen to paper as American Football seem to bleed through on this record.
American Football is Steve Holmes (guitar), Mike Kinsella (vocals, guitar), Nate Kinsella (bass), and Steve Lamos (drums, trumpet). American Football was recorded this spring at ARC Studios in Omaha, NE and SHIRK Studios in Chicago, IL, and was produced by the band and Jason Cupp.
1. Where Are We Now?
2. My Instincts Are the Enemy
3. Home Is Where the Haunt Is
4. Born to Lose
5. I've Been So Lost for So Long
6. Give Me the Gun
7. I Need a Drink (or Two or Three)
8. Desire Gets in the Way
9. Everyone Is Dressed Up
Produced by S. Carey over 18 days last winter at April Base Studios in Eau Claire, WI, The King Of Whys is Owen’s most inspired and evocative thus far, interpolating a group dynamic into what has long been an intensely intimate sound. It also marks the first work in Kinsella’s two-decade-plus career to be made entirely outside of the greater Chicagoland area.
Where Owen’s prior outings were almost entirely performed by Kinsella on his own, Carey brought in some of the Badger State’s finest players to add new flesh to his bare-boned songcraft. Kinsella, as usual, is up front on guitar, vocals, bass, drums, and bells, accompanied by Carey (keyboards, vocals, drums, bells) and such WI musicians as Zach Hanson, who also served as engineer on the record, violist Michael Noyce, pedal steel guitarist/keyboard player Ben Lester, horns player Andy Hofer, and bassist Jeremy Botcher, all of whom share credits including Bon Iver, S. Carey, The Tallest Man On Earth and more. Together the combo crafts an expansive but still grounded backdrop for Kinsella’s candid confessionals.
For more than two decades, Kinsella has been a central figure in Chicago’s indie rock universe, serving multiple roles in a string of bands whose influence continues to resonate across a span of genres and musical approaches. A founding member – with his brother Tim – of Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, and Owls, Kinsella’s own vision first manifested via American Football’s cathartic rock, but for most of the years since 2002, through Owen’s raw homespun offerings. Adopting the solo singer/songwriter persona freed Kinsella from a lifetime working in collectives, giving him complete control over every aspect of his creativity.
Owen’s lo-fi, largely acoustic bedroom recordings have evolved over eight albums and myriad EPs into a more orchestrated approach reflective of Kinsella’s growing strength as a songwriter. The sheer songcraft on The King of Whys more than warrants the expanded production, Kinsella dissecting his own foibles and familial relationships with caustic wit and a mordant sense of self-awareness. “Lovers Come And Go” and the elegiac “Saltwater” see the songwriter processing his experiences as he approaches the big four-oh, using his art to learn how to be a better father and husband.
The King of Whys also touches on universals like addiction with “Empty Bottle,” the place where so many long dark nights of the soul begin, whether it’s the venerable Chicago club or a just-finished fifth. Songs like “A Burning Soul” – a scathing looks at how his dad’s alcoholism has affected his own young family – and the closing “Lost” are haunting and poignant, alighting upon such common themes as love and loss, rebirth and redemption.
An intimate singer/songwriter album recorded under contemporary circumstances, The King of Whys utilizes progressive techniques, song structures, and time signatures, but Owen’s introspective humanity is timeless. Having made music for a very long time, Mike Kinsella continues to push himself towards transcendence with honesty, artistic ambition, and a sense of real circumstance.
The Desperate Act
Lovers Come And Go
A Burning Soul
Sleep Is A Myth
Orange vinyl edition - pressed on 180g transparent orange vinyl + includes a download code for the album. Limited to 500 copies.
"The King of Whys is never not magnificent." - Pitchfork
"Songs rarely adhere to one form, instead taking bits and pieces of Kinsella’s career and making them all sound fresh. It’s the kind of record that will appease Owen fans, but it’s lush enough--and inspired enough--to suggest that Owen is perhaps the best it’s ever been." - The AV Club
*"Throughout, the unifying characteristic is the richness and warmth of the sound, a million miles from the lo-fi of old; this is the prettiest Owen record to date, and there’s no shortage of strong contenders for that particular title." *- The Line Of Best Fit