Though more well-known for its iconic house-turned-meme than its own music, American Football deserves any and all attention it gets. The father figures of Midwest emo and math rock may have split up for a decade and a half after their critically acclaimed debut, but they came back as fresh as when they started, and it’s time to give credit where credit is due.
Let it be known that American Football — composed of vocalist, guitarist and bassist Mike Kinsella, bassist and vibraphonist Nate Kinsella, drummer and trumpeter Steve Lamos and guitarist Steve Holmes — has no second-rate song, not even some of those demos. A band that’s confident enough to make all three of its LPs and its EP self-titled works must be confident in its identity. American Football, creating the post-college breakup album of a lifetime in LP1, an exemplary look into struggling marriages and its effect on the self in LP2 and a post-divorce masterpiece in LP3, definitely has a niche audience and knows what it’s doing. Blending heart-wrenching lyrics and magical guitars into an ethereal experience, this band, put simply, is for you lovesick fools out there.
That being said, some tracks blatantly deserve more streams or spins on the record player than others, and since LP1 turned 21 last week, it seems as good a time as any to rank the iconic band’s entire discography. Here is a definitive ranking of every American Football song:
34. “Untitled #2 - Boombox Practice Session, 1998” (LP1 Deluxe Edition)
Though hardcore fans are grateful for the deep cuts provided via LP1’s deluxe reissue, nearly all of them rank at the very end of this list. This two-minute instrumental is a nice one to listen to while lying down and thinking about life, but it doesn’t provide as much substance as anything else in American Football’s discography.
33. “Song #1 / Song #2 - Demo” (Year One Demos - EP)
Split into two equally soothing halves, “Song #1 / Song #2” is another tranquil instrumental that still deserves a lot of love. It’s the gorgeous trumpet in “Song #2” that gives this track the edge.
32. “Untitled #3 - Boombox Practice Session, 1998” (LP1 Deluxe Edition)
The longest of the untitled tracks by a wide margin, “Untitled #3” is a glimpse into the incredible finger strength of the boys since the melancholy instrumental seems to last a lifetime.
31. “Five Silent Miles” (EP)
Ah, look, the fourth instrumental in a row — but that’s because the incredible lyrics in other tracks pair so well with the band’s equally remarkable production. “Five Silent Miles” is a spiritual journey through the bright moments of life, guided by soft, pacifying guitars.
30. “Letters and Packages” (EP)
It’s wild to see Kinsella’s vocal progression from 1997’s EP to 2019’s LP3 (and with his solo project, Owen, that’s also spanned 20 years). While “Letters and Packages” doesn’t have the best vocal performance, the story told of two lovers parting ways because they’re too young and immature is one worth remembering.
29. “You Know I Should Be Leaving Soon” (LP1)
There are points when it sounds like the guitar is almost blowing out the speakers, and that’s beautiful. This instrumental isn’t anything too extraordinary compared to other tracks on this list, but it still deserves every listen it gets.
28. “Untitled #1 (The One with the Trumpet) - Boombox Practice Session, 1998” (LP1 Deluxe Edition)
There is no more perfect duo than Lamos and his trumpet. This instrumental of desolate guitars and a trumpet that’s to die for depicts what it’s like to realize you’re at a low and the journey you take to gradually come out of it.
27. “The 7’s - Live at the Blind Pig, Champaign, IL, 1997” (LP1 Deluxe Edition)
This is math rock at its finest. Even without lyrics, “The 7’s,” with its twinkling and sometimes aggressive guitars, delineates the chaos of life.
26. “I Can’t Feel You (feat. Rachel Goswell)” (LP3)
It’s almost a shame to rank this track this low — because it’s still so good. Goswell’s breathy vocals, as she tells her lover she can’t hear his pleas for change in the relationship, against that shimmering guitar line are exquisite. The feeling exuded when Kinsella says “you make my head explode” is unmatched.
25. “I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional” (LP1)
Kinsella is angry, and he has every right to be. He and his significant other are so frustrated with each other they’ve become emotional to the point where no progress is being made to amend their problems. The vocals are scratchy, but they fit the theme well, and those guitars are marvelous.
24. “Desire Gets in the Way” (LP2)
While “Desire Gets in the Way” doesn’t align with the mood of the other tracks from LP2, it still has redeeming qualities. While Kinsella is excited by the idea of new adventures, he knows nothing compares to his wife, and he’ll never choose anything over her. The guitars, plaintive drums, vocals, basically everything in the bridge is too good.
23. “The One With the Wurlitzer” (LP1)
As American Football’s best instrumental, “The One With the Wurlitzer” almost replicates the feeling of coming to terms with where you’re headed in life. While relationships are difficult and their endings can tear us apart, it inevitably gets better — the same type of feeling this track radiates.
22. “Life Support” (LP3)
As the former lovers finalize their divorce, Kinsella can’t help but remember the good times they spent together. The first two minutes are a thought-provoking guitar line before Kinsella comes in to reveal he literally can’t go on without his wife, his personal life support. The song fades out as Kinsella says “forgiveness is a mystery,” and it’s one of the most haunting album closers ever.
21. “The One with the Tambourine” (EP)
That guitar riff, though Holmes admittedly ripped it off Sea & Cake’s “Jacking the Ball,” is immaculate. Kinsella spends his time here sarcastically saying time will heal all, even a lifetime’s worth of memories.
20. “Heir Apparent” (LP3)
Hardcore fans are probably seething at how low this is ranked because it’s objectively a bop. As Kinsella becomes less and less interested with the finer things in life, his wife is suffering because of it, and he realizes how much of a problem he’s caused. The lyric “maybe more than anything, sorry you love me” is too relatable, and the children’s choir and subdued keys are infectious.
19. “Where Are We Now?” (LP2)
The lyrics of “Where Are We Now” are some of the most chilling in the band’s entire discography. Supported by an eerie, winding guitar line, Kinsella has discovered he and his wife are “both home alone in the same house,” gradually drifting apart. They’ve experienced the same situation before and made it through, but it seems as if this time is different.
18. “Mine to Miss” (LP3)
The post-rock genre is exemplified in “Mine to Miss,” as its reposeful guitars and vibraphone create an otherworldly effect that’s perfect for a drive during a sunset. As Kinsella and his wife prepare to start anew without one another, he begins to wonder if they were ever really together and in love. Regardless, he’ll miss her “in the next life,” when he has to figure out a way to live without her.
17. “But the Regrets Are Killing Me” (LP1)
The girl who was by Kinsella’s side during college is saying goodbye so she can pursue her career, and he regrets wasting those four years with her when he knew they’d end eventually. The time signatures are constantly changing throughout the track, but it keeps it interesting, and the guitars are brooding yet irresistible.
16. “Home Is Where the Haunt Is” (LP2)
The grim yet soothing vibes are unmatched. Kinsella is returning home after recovering from some loss, probably something love-based, and the ghost of his past self won’t stop watching him. Kinsella warns you can move on and grow, but “you can’t just forget all the other lives you’ve lived.” Think about the lyrics for a couple minutes, and your brain will feel like goo.
15. “I’ve Been So Lost for So Long” (LP2)
American Football took a risk making this track its first song back after a 15-year hiatus since it departs almost completely from the math rock sound we’re used to. It’s fine, though, because the lyrics will consume you in a way production can’t. Kinsella can’t find his way back to his former, happy self, and he feels nothing anymore, pleading, “I can’t believe my life is happening to me.”
14. “The Summer Ends” (LP1)
The intro, with its bleak guitars and trumpet, has this funny way of reminding you of every ex you thought you were over. As Kinsella and his significant other continue to fight, he suggests either saying goodbye now or waiting until the end of the season to see if their relationship improves at all. They opt for the latter, but given the mood of the rest of the album, nothing gets better.
13. “My Instincts Are the Enemy” (LP2)
Similar to “Desire Gets in the Way” in theme, this track explores Kinsella’s yearning to follow his evil thoughts and be unfaithful. He knows in the end he would never do anything to hurt his wife, but sometimes, his instincts leave him depleted. The guitars are eerily catchy.
12. “Give Me the Gun” (LP2)
The bass from Nate Kinsella echos as Mike Kinsella checks in on his friend, who he says is “made of wet paper” — so fragile that you have to wait for them to dry to become functional. If you’ve seen any video of Lamos playing the drums during this track and its brief yet impactful drum solo, you know he loves his job.
11. “Honestly?” (LP1)
Some may be surprised this didn’t make the top five since it’s a fan favorite. While the final four minutes are immaculate because of the top-tier guitar solo, the two minutes leading until it simply aren’t. The vocal delivery is a bit shaky — probably because he’s so frustrated since he can’t remember why he did what he did when he was younger, and it’s starting to affect his future — but the instrumental and lyrics completely make up for it.
10. “Silhouettes” (LP3)
As the first single and opener of the album, “Silhouettes” at first seems off-putting since it departs so heavily from prior American Football records. However, it carries some of the dreamiest production — enticing glockenspiel, heavenly guitars, pounding bass — known to man. Two lovers have separated after an act of unfaithfulness, but Kinsella believes “as soon as the war ends, I’ll find you” — they’ll have more memories together someday.
9. “Born to Lose” (LP2)
Kinsella’s vocal tone is unparalleled in “Born to Lose.” Lamos on the repetitive yet catchy drums helps hammer into your head how Kinsella is feeling: even though he knows his lover is being disloyal, he can’t go without her. He admits, “I often imagine drowning in your skin, exactly where you end and my faults begin.” Imagine someone loving you that much.
8. “Every Wave to Ever Rise (feat. Elizabeth Powell)” (LP3)
There has never been a more perfect song for a late-night drive. As Powell sings in French about her shattered heart, her former lover in Kinsella watches her fall apart from afar as he begins to slip, too. Those guitars are literally the textbook definition of “ethereal.”
7. “For Sure” (LP1)
Again, here’s Lamos on the trumpet, giving us all the feels. Kinsella’s vocals are as soft as ever as he examines the situation that he and his partner aren’t sure if they want to stay together or if they’re meant to last. If you ever need to clear your mind, take a walk, and let the instrumental intro whisk you to an otherworldly state.
6. “Everyone Is Dressed Up” (LP2)
Justice for “Everyone Is Dressed Up.” One of the most underrated in the band’s discography, the track is Kinsella’s way of reminding his wife he’s in it for the long haul. It also sends a solid piece of advice in “everybody knows that the best way to describe the ocean to a blind man is to push him in” — telling someone to just go for something you want, even when it’s frightening.
5. “Doom in Full Bloom” (LP3)
The vocals, no exaggeration, are literally everything. To Kinsella, nothing without his wife is worthwhile, and as their relationship falls into nothingness, he’s letting destruction consume him. “Ethereal” doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling you obtain as you enter a journey into Kinsella’s beautifully chaotic mind.
4. “I Need a Drink (Or Two or Three)” (LP2)
Kinsella feels the need to drink to stay sane when his wife isn’t around. He knows he’s not the same, not as great as he used to be — exemplified by the lyrics, “Oh, how I wish that I were me, the man that you first met and married” — but he would do anything to have her around forever. The heart-wrenching strum of the guitar after every couple words in the first two lines stings like no other.
3. “Stay Home” (LP1)
“Stay Home” fits every mood: pondering life, needing something soothing to fall asleep to, driving music, anything you can imagine. Kinsella is telling it as it is: you can rant about your problems, but if you can’t listen to others, don’t bother going outside. Life is perpetual socializing, whether we like it or not, and it blows. There has never been a prettier, more hypnotizing riff in history.
2. “Never Meant” (LP1)
Some will be surprised this wasn’t the No. 1 choice, while others will probably laugh at how high it is. Though the track is now a meme, “Never Meant” is the peak of Midwest emo. Kinsella has decided it’s best for both his significant other and him that they just forget everything that happened between them and move on. If your heart rate doesn’t increase at that first echo of the riff, you must have tragically already departed from your emo phase.
1. “Uncomfortably Numb (feat. Hayley Williams)” (LP3)
This is the only collaboration that has ever mattered. Williams and Kinsella harmonize beside a beguiling guitar line as they explore the melancholy feelings that come alongside growing older. Including the saddest line to ever conclude a song, “I’ll make new friends in the ambulance,” the track outshines this irreplaceable band’s entire discography as well as everything that came out of 2019 (and probably everything beyond that, too).