Whilst American Football’s first album was a critical success, it didn’t gather mainstream attention until a whole 15 years later when it was re-released by Polyvinyl Records. Undoubtedly ahead of its time, it paved the way for the math rock bands of this century to build and expand on. As a result, Mike Kinsella, Steve Lamos, Steve Holmes (and later Mike’s cousin Nate Kinsella) became veiled figureheads for a scene they somewhat unwittingly helped birth.
After a 17-year hiatus, the band released their second album to a positive reception, although it failed to achieve the same cult status as their first. This time around, Kinsella and co. appear to be moving the band in a different direction. Unburdened by the fear of reproducing that same magic their first album possessed, the group have succeeded in creating a sonically distinct body of work. American Football have well and truly been birthed again.
It must be said that there seems to be an expectation from a lot of their fans to make a sequel to their first album. And whilst on paper this sounds like a great idea (after all, the album didn’t become a sleeper hit 15 years later for no reason), times have changed. Kinsella is now a 41-year-old man; it would feel disingenuous to write a sequel to an album largely centred around a long summer at the end of school, simultaneously discovering what it means to be an adult in the great wide world yet still catching the tail end of teenage high school romances. However, the reality is that those experiences occurred over two decades prior.
Instead, Kinsella’s focus is now on what is close to his heart in the present and the record is so much the better for it. In “Uncomfortably Numb”, the record’s second single, he declares “I blamed my father in my youth, now as a father I blame the booze”. Perhaps a lyric that single most encapsulates the themes of the album, Kinsella opens up to the listener both about his past, present and future woes. Gone are the melodramas of adolescence, replaced with the fears of a man just trying to be an adult and a good father in a perplexing world. There’s an honesty in his voice that really captures the listener; Kinsella is a man that has been writing music since he was a teenager and it’s very apparent here, with his well-honed song writing skills on full display.
Time has had a profound effect on the musical individuality of the band, who are clearly pushing themselves towards new pastures. LP3 sees them experimenting with instrumentation, foregoing some of their earlier influences in favour of softer-spoken, anthemic choruses that make the album accessible to both seasoned listeners and new fans. “Silhouettes” opens with a twinkly xylophone, whilst “Heir Apparent” features a flute, both taking up spaces that on an earlier album would have been filled by another layer of guitar. The chorus-heavy licks in “Doom in Full Bloom”, set over a backdrop of intricate reverbed-out accompanying lines, create a fascinating sonic palette that feels fresh and new whilst retaining the classic American Football sound that they’ve been creating for 20 years.
Amongst all this is their first release to feature guest vocals, provided by Elizabeth Powell of Broken Social Scene, Hayley Williams of Paramore and Rachel Goswell of Slowdive. Each vocalist helps make their mark on their respective song in nothing less than sensational fashion; Williams’ performance is a standout one, both in its delivery and the satisfaction it provides. Obnoxious gatekeepers in the scene are going to be left scratching their heads, wondering how a noughties pop rock singer ended up working with the spiritual father of emo.
LP3 is a journey. If you go in looking for more of the same, you’ll be left feeling a little empty, but if, like the band themselves, you yearn to experience the result of two decades of work, it’ll lift you up and sweep you away.
American Football’s third album is available to stream now on Spotify and Apple Music, download via Bandcamp or for physical purchase in the UK via Big Scary Monsters.
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