Just as rock has its roots in the genres of folk and blues, it also leads to the creation of new subgenres such as punk and emo. One of these relatively new subgenres is called midwest emo, pioneered by a band called American Football way back in 1999. In their self-titled debut, the iconic opening chords of the first song “Never Meant” was the inspiration for countless indie rock bands to come. Some argue it was the catalyst for the creation of midwest emo as a genre. For this reason, I would categorize American Football by American Football as one of the greatest rock albums of all time.
While maintaining emo’s signature darker lyrical themes, Midwest emo is different in its approach by using unconventional vocals almost like spoken word poetry and often borrowing musical elements from indie rock and math rock. The midwestern aspect of the title only applies to its geographic roots, as it was also pioneered by other bands from the Midwest such as Mineral and Chamberlain.
The subgenre did not initially take off; however, almost immediately after its inception, it was overshadowed by the third wave of emo that includes more household names like My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus. Although American Football initially did not perform very well, their iconic riff went on to define the genre of Midwest emo and caused the album to be recognized as a cult classic later on. In fact, the band actually separated soon after the album was released, and the true beauty of American Football was not recognized until many years later during the emo revival of the late 2000s and early 2010s.
The music on the album itself is almost wistful, capturing the last moments of summer before college starts. Songs like “The Summer Ends” capture this idea perfectly: “Thinking/about leaving/and how I should say/goodbye/with a handshake/or an embrace/or a kiss on the cheek.” A major theme of the album is how relationships change, especially for people leaving for college, and the album expertly captures the bittersweet feeling of endings and new beginnings.
With just nine songs and a runtime of a little over 40 minutes, this little album certainly packs a big punch. The lyrics are typically just a small portion of each song as well, focusing heavily on the unique chord progressions and atypical time signatures that characterize midwest emo. The genre has been experiencing a revival since the 2010s with the increasing popularity of bands such as Mom Jeans, Modern Baseball, and Origami Angel. If you’re looking to dive into this underground but underrated subgenre, American Football can take you back to where it all began.