American Football Credit: Atiba Jefferson

In fall 2018, user-generated Internet in-joke database Know Your Meme added a page about second-wave emo legends American Football. Funny riffs on the band’s 1999 self-titled debut album and its scene-famous cover art—a green-hued off-­center image of the Urbana house where photographer Chris Strong lived at the time—have pervaded Internet emo and indie-rock circles at least since the Illinois band reunited in 2014. Plenty of video memes incorporate the sylvan and bittersweet “Never Meant,” including a recent cover that uses synths that sound ripped from a water level on Super Mario 64, and another where the song is edited into a scene from an Arthur cartoon so it looks like the band’s music sends Binky Barnes on a hallucinogenic journey. One of my favorites features cult dance sensation, singer, and wannabe model Buff Correll busting hyperfast moves to the song’s cycling guitars. These homages aren’t just entertaining—they also underscore the staying power of American Football, which got barely any attention when it first came out. Singer-guitarist Mike Kinsella, guitarist Steve Holmes, and drummer and trumpeter Steve Lamos formed American Football in 1997, while studying at the University of Illinois; they were already immersed in emo and posthardcore, but their new music also reflected their affection for minimalist composer Steve Reich, Chicago postrock groups Tortoise and the Sea & Cake, and bossa nova. Though it took years for American Football’s gentle sound and radical approach to catch on, it feels like half the emo or indie acts to emerge this decade bear their influence. In celebration of American Football’s 20th anniversary, the band recently put out Year One Demos (Poly­vinyl), a collection of recently unearthed instrumental recordings made in Lamos’s childhood home in May 1997. Year One collects a previously unreleased track (“Song #1 / Song #2”) with material that later appeared on American Football’s 1998 self-titled EP and 1999 album. The light electronic percussion and resonant guitars on the instrumental version of “For Sure” give it an avant-garde lounge feel, showcasing a group testing the bounds of their burgeoning sound. Though American Football are keeping the anniversary celebration going with these Schubas shows, they aren’t just dwelling on the past. Since regrouping and adding bassist Nate Kinsella to their lineup, they’ve released two full-lengths, including 2019’s American Football (LP3)—it’s one of the best albums of the year, and proves that these guys are still trying to push their style further.   v