The Lowdown: American Football are no longer a folktale. The band no longer exist as a time capsule of black-and-white photos, a few grainy YouTube videos, and their genre-defining LP and EP, which were released in the late ’90s. After reuniting in 2014 and getting a second record under their belt, American Football have had plenty of time to shake off the rust and expand on their sound, which has turned dramatically more mature and foreboding since getting back together. On LP3, the band recruited the vocal talents of Hayley Williams (Paramore), Elizabeth Powell (Land of Talk), and Rachel Goswell (Slowdive) to inject new colors into their cozy emo and post-rock fabric.
The Good: LP3 sounds like the record American Football have always been striving to make. While LP1 sees the band creating their novel (at the time) blend of emo and post-rock, LP2 sounds closer to lead singer-guitarist Mike Kinsella’s solo project Owen with a few twinkly American Football guitar licks. LP3 still sounds like an American Football record, but the band have undoubtedly charted new sonic territory. Their mathy guitar riffs and lone trumpet have never been surrounded by more lushness and slowcore bliss before.
Since the band’s earliest days, they have cited masters of atmospheric minimalism like Steve Reich and Mark Hollis (Talk Talk) as inspirations but have never delivered the space and precision that those musicians’ best works are revered for. LP3 begins with “Silhouettes”, a slow burner that introduces the album with a gorgeous wave of bells and vibraphone that could be perfectly snug on Music for Eighteen Musicians. American Football keep the surprises rolling on “Heir Apparent”, which features the Omaha Children’s Choir. The choir bring an uplifting and divine quality to the track’s plodding sound that falls somewhere between ecstasy and melancholy.
On LP3, American Football have achieved something they’ve never done before. The band have created a spacious, cohesive atmosphere that all the tracks fit within, resulting in a warm drifting feeling similar to a great shoegaze or dream-pop record. All three guest vocalists do a nice job melding their voices within this aesthetic and offer an affable alternative to Kinsella’s gritty vocals. Hayley Williams is particularly great on the track “Uncomfortably Numb”, where her voice provides a bit of youthful exuberance in contrast to Kinsella’s more mature crooning. Lyrically, the album delivers some patented Kinsella Sad-Dadcore musings, like on “Uncomfortably Numb” where he utters, “I can’t feel a thing inside/ I blamed my father in my youth/ Now as a father, I blame the booze.”
The Bad: This is a carefully measured record. Because of that, LP3 isn’t quite as youthful and freewheeling as LP1 or even some of the moments on LP2 . The trumpet passages on the record are fantastic, but few and far between. While it’s great that the instrument hasn’t been overused to a gimmicky level, a few more horns on this record would have given the album a classic American Football feel. LP3’s singular engulfing atmosphere will either capture everything around it in a trance or feel monotonous by the end — we think closer to the former.
The Verdict: This isn’t a full departure from the American Football sound, but the band successfully traverse new territory. Fans of ’90s slowcore, shoegaze, and post-rock will immediately be drawn to this record’s space and dynamics much more so than the die-hard ’90s emo crowd. The second act of American Football is a different band, but clearly made up of the same men. While wearing their influences on their sleeve, they deliver a lush and compact package of fleeting ballads to get lost in. Mike Kinsella gets a fully warranted reputation as a complete dad, but it’s obvious he still finds some time away from his religious following of Tony Kornheiser to write despondent, introspective songs that evoke the loneliness and anxieties that seem to linger around, no matter how old we get.
Essential Tracks: “Silhouettes”, “Uncomfortably Numb”, and “Doom in Full Bloom”
Buy: Check out American Football vinyl here.