7.9

Footballhead Stick the Landing On Overthinking Everything

The complementary symbiosis of Ryan Nolen and snow ellet’s creative partnership is on full display on the Chicago alt-rock project's thrill-seeking debut.

Music Reviews Footballhead
Footballhead Stick the Landing On Overthinking Everything

It isn’t hard to love Footballhead. There’s the feel-good come-up of frontman Ryan Nolen, a Chicago-born, California-grown skater boy who only decided to start performing music after a neighbor pushed him to play Pixies covers at historic Windy City punk dive bar The Mutiny. And there’s the band’s nostalgic 120 Minutes-alt-rock-meets-Fantasy Factory skatepark mentality, a creative vision that bridges the two-thousand-mile gap between the sunny rays of Southern California and the windchill of the so-called flyover states.

Growing up in the suburbs of west Chicago, Nolen was infatuated with the punk-oriented ethos of Y2K alt-rock. When his family relocated to the West Coast while he was still a teenager, his love of music only grew deeper, as he came of age to the sound of bands like blink-182 and Third Eye Blind against a brilliant backdrop of 411 skate videos and ripped mp3 files from Limewire. But while Nolen dabbled in songwriting and production with fuzzy MacBook-made GarageBand demos during his time at San Diego State University, it wasn’t until he moved back to Chicago that he really began to pursue music. He earned a spot in local space rock band Kirby Grip, but found some of the material he was developing to be too poppy for that group. Enter Footballhead, which Nolen first envisioned as merely a solo project. That changed after he met local bubbling under emo newcomer snow ellet, who soon became his main collaborator and worked with him to round out the lineup with bassist Adam Siska of The Academy Is…, Liam Burns and Robbie Kuntz.

And with debut LP Overthinking Everything, Footballhead have finally arrived. Originally a summer 2023 digital self-release, the band made the decision to pull the album from streaming services and partner with independent label Tiny Engines for a proper rollout. Remastered by Jesse Cannon (known for his work with Basement, the Menzingers, Saves The Day and Somos), the quintet’s first outing is a high-voltage, pop-punk acid drop that harkens back to the salad days of Box Car Racer, cut-off Dickies and double kickflips.

For a project made in Chicago, it’s fitting that Overthinking Everything trumpets the same free-spirited, devil-may-care gusto as Ferris Bueller’s legendary day off. The complementary symbiosis of Nolen and snow ellet’s creative partnership is on full display on candy-coated lead single “Habits,” a track that oscillates between the former’s radio-ready pop hooks and the latter’s grittier alt-rock. It’s a roller coaster-like sonic blend that sets the tone for the rest of the album, with Nolen’s 90s pop-rock infused daydreams serving as the perfect yin to snow ellet’s emo-tinged, bedroom pop yang. “Snowball” is a SoCal-tinted pop-punk heater saturated with raw feeling (“And that’s just the way it happens, when everything feels new again / We see it all fall through in the end”).

Meanwhile, the moody bassline and biting lyricism of “Like a Blister,” a song that harkens back to the addictive somber of Nirvana’s “Something In The Way,” showcases the band’s darker, edgier side (“I keep your framed little picture / Even though it stings like a blister”). “Etched You In,” with its shimmering guitar riffs and elevated drum pulse, listens like an untitled-era blink-182 cut, and kinetic anthem “Talking Nonsense” somehow manages to walk the tightrope between hope and despair (“Done with thinking I’ll get up to date / I got friends growing older with a lot on their plate”).

Perhaps most importantly—the band sound like they’re having fun, with a certain unruffled-despite-it-all bliss serving as the beating heart of the project. You can feel it on “So I Stay (Petty),” a catchy outing carried home by Nolen’s endearingly blasé acceptance of life’s difficulties (“Don’t know if I can be there tomorrow, I find it hard to even be here today”). It shines through on the standout track “My Plan,” a terrific (although maddeningly short) power surge that arrives tied together with a humble sense of self-assurance (“I could fall in line/But then I’d be blind again”). Rather than shy away from all that is grim and mundane, Footballhead lean in with a knowing grin, inviting you to laugh even in the face of the bleakest void.

Clocking in at just under 30 minutes in runtime, Overthinking Everything is a heart-pounding riptide that sucks you in and spits you out with the same undeniable force of its teenage dirtbag, Vans Sk8-Low-wearing forebears. “I’ve been overthinking everything since I was young, more eroded by experiences weathering me numb,” Nolen laments on the album’s title track. Somewhere, the ghost of Warped Tour smiles.


Elizabeth Braaten is a writer from Houston, Texas.

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