Old But Not Forgotten: On The (Re)Return Of ‘American Football’
In the time since the release of American Football’s first LP in 1999, plenty has happened. In a completely unpredictable turn of events, Mike Kinsella has had a child, breaking the aeons-long cycle of emo frontmen being cursed to remain celibate for the rest of their lives. Their drummer, Steve Lamos, is a professor of English at the University of Colorado – his RateMyProfessor page is plagued by students not-so-subtly referencing his past. Emo bands naming themselves after sports they’ve definitely never played have become a fixture in the scene (shoutout to Modern Baseball please come back), almost certainly thanks to their influence. To this day, the first 5 seconds of ‘Never Meant’ are enough to induce anaphylactic shock in a certain subset of indie kids. Their power is undeniable, and watching their successful return is almost like seeing a prophecy being fulfilled. Except instead of Jesus rising from the dead again, it’s just American Football being resurrected, which is far cooler.
Reunifying in 2014, American Football released their second LP, to much fanfare – until people actually listened to it. It was widely panned by their fanbase of sad teens who weren’t even born when their first album was released (me included) and viewed as a soulless husk compared to the cult classic that their debut was. In retrospect, there’s nothing awfully wrong with it – it’s just missing the heart that their past effort had. Thankfully, this isn’t the case with the latest entry in their discography. LP3 is a true maturation of American Football’s sound, crossing over from their past math-rock sensibilities to ethereal dream pop without a hitch. The only complaint I have is that there’s no house on the cover this time.
American Football could have retread old ground and released another generic emo album, and, while LP3 is truly excellent, there are certainly arguments to be made in favour of hearing middle-aged Kinsella whine about girls as if the past 20 years hadn’t happened. With LP3 they go above and beyond, leaving it arguable if they can even be considered ‘American Football’ – Kinsella’s own work on his solo project, Owen, has clearly been a strong influence. It is impressive to see such a titan of the scene be able to shift their sound entirely, transcending the boundaries of their assigned genre while keeping what made them so unique in the first place.
The album’s opener, ‘Silhouettes’, immediately sets the tone, ushering in the band’s new direction with gusto. A stand-out track is ‘Heir Apparent’, with its haunting choral outro and twinkly guitar lines. Kinsella’s breathy vocals are offset by a sharply ascending piano that fades in and out like a death knell. ‘Doom in Full Bloom’ feels like the band making a tentative foray into post-rock, clocking in at a hefty 7 minutes and 49 seconds to make it the album’s lengthiest track. It ebbs and flows, culminating in a resounding crescendo that melts away into the next song. The features alone are enough to make the album something special. Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell lends her ghostly vocals to ‘I Can’t Feel You’, and her inclusion certainly validates the shoegaze influences that are found on some of the album’s longer songs. In possibly the greatest crossover of all-time between pop-punk and emo, Hayley Williams makes an appearance on ‘Uncomfortably Numb’ in a duet with the crooning Kinsella.
The introspective and carefully woven lyrics are a far cry from the “teenage feelings” of LP1. Where the appeal of their debut mostly came from the highly technical guitar work rather than the admittedly lacklustre lyrics, LP3 manages to impress by combining strong lyricism with impressively crafted riffs. The complexity of each song and the interplay between each instrument makes for a wonderful experience, making the album a treat for repeat listens.
By Matthew Derwin – Music Writer