Do you remember where you were when you discovered American Football? I do. It was alone in my basement, back when Limewire and Napster and all that were still a thing, and I searched for it and downloaded it on recommendation from a friend who liked the same pop punk/emo/indie bands that I did. Mind you, this was a good five or six years after the debut LP had come out, and my friend had backed into the discovery it via Owen, the newer project from lead singer Mike Kinsella, if my memory serves me. But what a find it was. At a time when I hungered for meaning and deep thought music, but the trends was swaying into a screamo/hardcore territory that I only found so-so satisfying, here was a band with instrumental and musical complexity that rivaled the classic rock and 90s bands I had studied earlier. Everything about “American Football” seems wistful, from Kinsella’s drawl to the patient guitars to the rumbled cymbal taps, sweeping over the listener like a warm breeze.

Waking up to the news of a new record — also self-titled, how cool! — coming this fall and a new single instantly brought me back to that place, when I felt like I’d come across something that was as broken-hearted as I was but prideful and intelligent enough to wrap it in a smooth, soothing package. Those opening bars of “Never Meant” — both the drum fill and that ascending guitar riff — have haunted me throughout the years, in my basement and in car rides, in late nights of insomnia and afternoons of quiet despair. No doubt it has haunted the members of AF, too — how do you top that, how do you come back from an album that has meant so much to so many people? Kinsella’s thought on the comeback over at Pitchfork are worth a read.

After 17 years, it seems that they relied on listening to themselves and their musical instinct while respecting the reverence their original recording still inspires. The first single of the next record “I’ve Been So Lost For So Long” is a bit wordier than the tracks on the first record, but not at all to its detriment — there’s still a lot of space between the instruments, shakers and auxiliary to compliment the echoing guitars but a thumping build to add some movement and direction. It’s a great song that doesn’t depart from what fans have hung onto for so many years while showing the maturation that comes with age and practice. It feels older, and it should, because as much as we might want to hang onto the memories and feelings of years ago, time changes all of us — and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

“Maybe I’m asleep
This is all a dream
I can’t believe life is happening to me.
~I’ve Been So Lost For So Long
American Football, American Football