American Football’s New Album Might Be Their Best Yet
All three American Football records are self-titled, and all sound like their covers: The first one is dusky and wistful, the second pleasant enough but a bit too cozy in its setting. For their new one, and third self-titled album, the band has changed locations, bringing the listener outside somewhere bluer and hazier. After their comfortable but underwhelming second album, the group reconvened with the same producer at the same studio, yet with the intention of doing something different. This is what makes LP3 their most fascinating record to date, and possibly their best as well. Kinsella admitted to Vulture that in order to write the first reunion record, LP2, he had to revisit his teenage headspace. This resulted in punchlines like “I’ve been so sick / Doctor, it hurts when I exist” on that record’s lead single, “I’ve Been So Lost For So Long.” In that same interview, Kinsella contrasted himself with his lyrics: “I’m almost 40, and I have a wife and kids, and I’m, you know, settled where I am.”
American Football have dealt with aging as far back as the debut album cut “Honestly?” But on LP3, they directly confront adulthood and parenthood. Compare those above LP2 lines with the self-lacerating “I blamed my father in my youth / Now as a father, I blame the booze” on LP3’s “Uncomfortably Numb” and it’s clear how the subject matter has shifted and matured. Still, there remain the same kind of punchlines; guest vocalist Hayley Williams sings “whenever I try to be clear with you / I only end up feeling see through” shortly after those lines about “booze”, but even that feels more perceptive. On standout “Heir Apparent,” the best song the band has put out since reforming, Kinsella delivers a particularly stellar lyric musing on the way parents can pass on their worst traits without knowing: “Selfishness is inherited like skinny lips and tattoos / So what could I do?” He even gets away with singing “I’m unapologetically sorry for everything” a few verses later, especially once it becomes “I’m unapologetically yours…” and finally, “I’m sorry you love me.”
The production and arrangements also benefit from an increased polish. The mix alone is much more interesting—-bright reverb tails accentuate every snare hit, making the drums sound as vast as the outdoor landscape on the cover. On opener “Silhouettes,” vibraphones, synth pads, and heavily processed vocals all represent varying degrees of departure. “Heir Apparent” includes a children’s choir in the soaring outro, after incorporating woodwinds. “Life Support” even boasts strings amidst the typically bright, tinny guitar riffs, and it’s to mixer Jason Cupp’s credit that no element feels extraneous. Instead, the band’s sound is open and expansive.
On LP3, American Football utilize other vocalists besides its frontman to further challenge genre boundaries. Especially when filed into a scene forever grappling with its own history of misogyny, the method works perfectly here, making LP3 far less insular than their previous music. Rachel Goswell of the band Slowdive brings the propulsive “I Can’t Feel You” into the midst of a fight, opting for immediacy instead of introspection or reminiscence like virtually every other song the band has recorded. On “Every Wave To Ever Rise,” Elizabeth Powell sings in French as if to hide her internal struggle from Kinsella’s character (the translation of her lyrics is “my heart is sick, it’s the fault of love”). And though “Uncomfortably Numb” sometimes feels a bit too close to LP2’s soft rock, Hayley Williams’ mere presence, even when unusually restrained, makes the song better. They all serve a similar purpose: giving the other side of the story after two albums where self-pity was a feature, not a bug.
Still, maybe the album is too refined. Today’s college students, once the band’s core audience, won’t be as invested in the ongoing adventures of Kinsella and Friends, and if anything, those students are listening to the same debut album students did 20 years ago. Nothing on this record will become beloved and meme’d to the extent of “Never Meant”— there’s no instantly memorable intro like that song’s idle studio chatter and snare hit. But those days are long over, and LP3 is better for recognizing that. Hayley Williams and Mike Kinsella opine, “The lessons are so much less obvious the further you get from home,” but LP3 proves that the further American Football gets from the house, the more rewarding their records become.