football, etc., The Draft
Look, I know definitions change. Hell, I work with words for a living, day in and day out — I’m well aware that a word can mean one thing and then shift into meaning something else. That doesn’t mean, however, that I have to like it.
So when I continually hear the word “emo” thrown around, applied to bands that wear far too much guyliner and mope the way the small crew of Goth kids that used to hang out at our mall would, it makes me fucking ill. When friends my own age, people who really should know better, define “emo” as being “kind of like Goth, but mopier,” it makes me want to punch things.
See, I can remember the Good Old Days, long before wastes of musical space like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance took the term as their own and transformed it into a goddamn cartoon. I can remember when “emo” as a term was loose enough to gather in a whole host of bands, mostly tied together by their penchant for introspective lyrics, drone-heavy guitars, and loud-quiet dynamic shifts; it wasn’t a fashion, a subculture, or anything even remotely near that.
It certainly wasn’t all about suicide or isolation — it was about feeling all that crap so you could move past it. Emo wasn’t a pose; it was music as coping mechanism, a way of dealing with the world. All that loud-then-soft stuff was an attempt to take a feeling of catharsis and push it out through speakers.
All of which is to say that when I listen to football, etc.’s debut full-length, The Draft, I feel like I’ve come home again, back to a place I used to know well but that’s maybe fallen into disrepair, neglected for a decade or so and let fall apart. Singer/guitarist Lindsay Minton, bassist Mercy Harper, and drummer James Vehslage play music that really is what “emo” used to be, at least to me: irrepressible hooks, awesomely drone-y guitar lines, drifting/soaring vocals, propulsive (but not in-your-face) drums, and lyrics about heartbreak and working through it.
From the first warm, bright-sounding, yet still driving handful of notes in opening “Sudden Death,” I’m having a hard time keeping a smile off my face. I really, truly love the Silver Scooter-esque melody Minton pushes along throughout the song, especially close to the end, where it all feels like it’s about to collapse and disintegrate — it feels like Minton herself, in spite of declaring she’s “removed from it,” is about to break down.
“Incomplete” is tense and bitter, but still nicely melodic, and then “Safety” hits a big, big high note with its gentle, seesawing guitar line in the verse and hopeful, triumphant promise in the chorus. “I’ll build / a nest / for you,” Minton swears, as those guitars swell and crash beneath her, and she sounds like she’s going to make it happen no matter what.
Then there’s the awesome, Promise Ring-like riff to “X’s and O’s,” which sets the stage the Superchunk-y warmth of “Half-Time,” the guitars for which I swear sound like they’re coming straight out of Jim Wilbur’s amp, and the speeding drums and agile bassline of “Sideline,” which wouldn’t have been out of place alongside Boyracer on some indie-pop comp from the ’90s.
More than anything else, though, what The Draft reminds me of is emo icons Mineral’s seminal EndSerenading. Like that album, here the guitars repeat and meander (but never too far off the track), then surge and explode at just the right damn times, while the rhythms roll and churn like the sea when a storm’s about to cut loose. And over it all, there’s Minton’s voice, which reminds me from time to time of Sarge’s Elizabeth Elmore — a comparison I don’t make lightly — but reminds me even more of Mineral’s Chris Simpson.
It’s not the voice, strictly speaking, but the phrasing that does it. Rather than tie the words tightly to the music, Minton instead drifts and floats over it, touching down occasionally but mostly remaining aloof, crafting a vocal line that’s utterly distinct from whatever the guitars are doing beneath it. Obviously, that’s not an easy task — it’s a hell of a lot simpler to marry the vocals to the guitars’ rhythm, at least — and Minton pulls it off amazingly well, lending the entirety of The Draft an ethereal, un-anchored feel.
And sure, this is all about heartbreak and loss (as far as I can discern from the lyrics, anyway; and no, the football-centric song tites don’t seem to mean a damn thing), but it’s real, down-to-earth pain and emotion being poured out, not some caricature. For that, and for dragging me back to the mid-’90s and reassuring me that I’m not misremembering the way it used to be back then, I have to say it: I freaking love this band. Thanks, y’all.
(Feature photo by Justin Bogert.)