>> The mid-western emo forefather returns with a record that dazzles, whilst defying their own self mythology, creating a new sound to redefine themselves.
When it comes to influential acts, American Football is one of those bands that will always show up on any list. As a group who pioneered, influenced, and reinvented the genres of emo and math rock, American Football has been a band that has remained both popular and iconic amongst music fans for two decades now. They did so with their release of their first self titled record in 1999, with a following silence of seventeen years. When their return record finally did come to pass in 2016, it was met with lukewarm to negative reception, with a majority of fans feeling as if the band was unsuccessfully attempting to lean on the legacy that had been built for them since their initial record. Since then, it’s clear that American Football has taken their three year absence to recover, reevaluate, and reinvent their sound and efforts. Their newest album, American Football (LP3), is an album that takes the ideas of 90’s and early 2000’s emo aesthetics, condenses them, and presents them in a way that is much closer to shoegaze, whilst still keeping the same heartfelt self expression and internal emotion as their first project. Whereas 2016’s LP2 overly relied on self pity, romance, and nostalgia, LP3 instead focuses on growing older, reflecting on the past, and learning from old feelings and mistakes. Instead of focusing on feeling sad and wanting to feel nothing, American Football has decided to feel gratitude at the thought of feeling anything at all, while continuing a bitterness at the way things are, and have been. The band is much older than they were- Mike Kinsella, the band’s frontman, is 42 years old with a family now, and his songwriting reflects this. There’s a recurring idea on songs such as “Uncomfortably Numb” and “Heir Apparent” that one’s flaws that come out in adulthood do so due to the mistakes of one’s parents, an idea that hasn’t been represented much to this extent previously. It will be interesting to see as time goes on, and emo artists of this era age and mature, if these themes and others like it, will continue to thrive, as they seemingly have with Kinsella. His outlook and focus have matured in the past few years, but they still stay true to who he was in his youth, and what his artistic approach was. There’s a wistful longing both in the vocals and guitar work that absolutely grasps at your emotions. Additionally, this record is much softer than previous efforts. The single, “Uncomfortably Numb” is a perfect example of this, as it features Hayley Williams of Paramore, a band that they themselves influenced tremendously. If American Football were to collaborate with her ten, or fifteen years ago, the resulting track would be much more pounding, bombastic, and aggressive. Instead, what has been presented is a song that reflects one’s own faults, issues, and emotional numbness as a result of them. This album almost fades into the background, and while ordinarily that could be considered a detriment, it kind of feels like the point with this project. The production is absolutely lush and relaxing, the lyrics soft spoken and poignant, the guitars beautifully dazzling and twinkling, the rhythms hypnotic. As always, there is a focus on experimenting a bit more with varying instrumentation, allowing the new tone to ground them in a unique new way, as the opening bell chimes and vibraphone on “Silhouettes” illustrate. The mixing for LP3 ties the project together masterfully, allowing every part of a song to shine equally, and maintaining the atmosphere perfectly.
The band has revamped themselves in a way that is unexpected to many, but that subversion of expectations may be somewhat undeserved. It seems as if all American Football really had to do to win back the favor of both fans and critics was to create something better than LP2. And while they genuinely seem to have learned and recovered from that misstep, other groups have already experimented with the ground the band is walking on with this project. The only difference is that these blendings of emo, shoegaze, and math rock now have American Football’s boot prints on them in higher definition, now that they’ve let their rougher post hardcore influences melt away. This isn’t a bad thing, but the band haven’t reinvented the genres once again, they’ve instead reinvented themselves. Some of these songs also just overstay their welcome, an infamous trait of an American Football record, with the song “Every Wave To Ever Rise” being a prime suspect of this. Additionally, the question of whether or not they can garner a new audience outside the one they already had with this record has yet to be seen. Even though the fruits of their labor are incredibly sweet at the moment, and this release is personally very exciting, it seems doubtful that there’s enough new and engaging ideas here to cling on to to make this record the classic that the original release was.
It mustn’t be misunderstood that LP3 is a return to form for American Football, rather than a restructuring of their sound. But the restructuring that they’ve done is quite astonishing, and very exciting. American Football has maintained a mythic status over the years with both their history, mystery, and aesthetic, but it seems as if both the band and their audience has realized that eventually, that old house in Illinois will have to crumble away, and once it does, we’ll move on, but we’ll still think of the impact it had on us. LP3 feels like a perfect return for the group in that regard- they’ve grown up. And in growing up, they’ve acknowledged who they’ve influenced, along with who’s influenced them, learning from both those older and younger voices, and are setting a brand new foot forward, while still taking the time to turn around to acknowledge the past. On top of that, they’ve released some incredibly beautiful tracks. Ultimately, that’s all they really needed, or seemingly wanted to do, and in that regard, they have certainly succeeded. 4.3/5 <<