By Lane Moore, Reviews Editor
Key tracks: “Silhouettes”, “Heir Apparent”, “Mine to Miss”
Like a half-conjured memory, one that might’ve been a dream, American Football’s third self-titled record begins with an ambiance that immediately sets it apart from the band’s previous work. American Football’s 1999 self-titled debut record focuses on the uncertain, wistfulness of youth, but American Football (LP3) flips that idea on its head, reflecting on an already half-lived life and the elusiveness of adolescence, even in retrospect. That being said, there is a familiarity in components such as interlocking guitars and clever lyrics, but the distinguishing characteristics lie within LP3’s maturity and experimentation.
The immediate ambiance of LP3 is attributed to the array of vibraphone chimes that begin the first track, “Silhouettes”. While LP3 is a guitar album, it’s not the type of arpeggiated, math guitar driving the record that’s become synonymous with American Football’s sound. Instead, a post-rock approach is taken, and the production aids this sonic direction, focusing less on clean guitar tones and more on atmospheric resonance. This is the first American Football record where the dilemma of distinguishing between guitar effects and synthesizers exists – I’m talking about you, buzzsaw noise at the end of “Every Wave to Ever Rise (Feat. Elizabeth Powell)”.
American Football’s transition to shoegaze results in tracks that warble like birds and whirr like machines. Many features of LP3, like the flute on “Heir Apparent”, are as faint as those of the album’s cover art, as both have a simple beauty in addition to a divergence from the so-called legacy of the band. “Heir Apparent” also serves as an example of LP3’s colloquially phrased lyrics, such as “I’m sorry for aging / Growing more and more disinterested in celebrity and politic.” Clearly, American Football have moved on from paying homage to who they were as teenagers. As frontman Mike Kinsella states in an interview with Ian Cohen, “Everything about [LP3] was a reaction to LP2.” They had already recreated LP1, and with LP3, it was time to move on. No more compromises.
With that in mind, “Doom in Full Bloom” is the most reminiscent of their earlier work. Interlocking guitar parts, snare rimshots, bass long tones and trumpets allow the track to harken back to the band’s midwestern emo days. The familiarity of “Doom in Full Bloom” feels out of place on LP3, but that’s not to say that every aspect of the band’s tendency for experimentation on the record is a winner either. The overdone humming throughout “I can’t feel you (Feat. Rachel Goswell)”, for example, is a strange and overbearing addition.
The lyrical content on LP3 is incredibly personal, and while it’s uncomfortable to hear a married, 42-year-old father talk about missing a past lover on “Mine to Miss”, the song is, unfortunately, quite solid. It’s a version of “Never Meant” for middle-aged folks, which adds to the short list of reasons why we should live past our 30s. Fueling that fire are lyrics like “I used to struggle in my youth / Now I’m used to struggling for two” on “Uncomfortably Numb (Feat. Hayley Williams)”, making LP3 a psalm for both dads and starving artists.
This album feels like a collection of photos hiding in a dusty shoebox under a bed, and American Football are brave – and nostalgic – enough to get that box out, blow the dust off and open it. However, they never forget who and where they are as they recount lost memories, resulting in an album more concerned with self-actualization than a longing for the past. It’s a fitting theme for a group chronically unconcerned with their own legacy, which was born in their “relentless adolescence” and continues now.