An essential listen for die-hard fans of the band.
It’s kind of surprising that there remains an amount of mystique behind the early career of American Football. That isn’t to say that the work of the emo icons has aged poorly (if anything, the opposite has happened), but the band’s reunion and the subsequent release of two more albums should have broken that mystique a little bit. Yet their original work remains fiercely beloved and sought-after, even as they’ve technically released more music this century than in the past one. Thus, even though the band put out a new album just this year, there’s still plenty of excitement behind the official release of a collection of demos from the band’s nascent beginnings, before they had an album or even a name. Here, we’re presented with a slightly different idea of what American Football could have been, even as the groundwork for what they eventually became is fairly evident.
To call Year One Demos a “new” release would be a bit of a misnomer. For starters, there’s only one wholly new piece of music here; the other three tracks are demos for songs that would eventually be released on their debut EP or the self-titled album that followed. Also, devout fans may have heard these very sessions two years ago when a copy of the recordings was posted online. Even taking that into account, hearing Year One Demos in this context is kind of revelatory. These feel like finished recordings, even though we know that some of these songs would ultimately turn out differently later on.
Initially, American Football was intended to be an instrumental project, and Year One gives some insight as to what that would have been. The unreleased song (or songs, depending on how you want to look at it) show the band in a somewhat looser light. There’s clearly no space for any lyrics; instead, the intertwining guitars of Mike Kinsella and Steve Holmes do the emotional heavy lifting (along with a well-placed horn solo at the end). Elsewhere, the future album-cuts feature in looser settings that allow the guitar and percussion to breathe and interact in different ways. Only “For Sure” seems like a proper demo in this context, its canned metronomic intro and lack of vocals a clear indication of a song in the formative stages. Otherwise, the recordings on Year One Demos sound remarkably closer to a fully completed piece of music than one would expect from a band this young.
This EP presents an interesting thought experiment about what American Football would have sounded like had they gone in this direction. Would they have been as revered as they currently are? Perhaps, but not in the same way. Even so, Year One Demos is an essential listen for die-hard fans of the band, and while it consists of only four songs, the EP is more substantial than its length or its status as a collection of demos would suggest.