Review Summary: American Football once more push the boundaries of the emo genre on their second comeback record, but can't quite shake a few bad habits.
It seems bizarre to be reviewing the third American Football album – or that one exists at all. What started as an emo-dad reunion tour has now resulted in two sequel LPs to the 1999 self-titled jazz-meets-indie-meets-teenage-diary classic. Unlike the 2016 record, however, this new release promises new territory for the band, building upon rather than merely revisiting their past.
American Football LP3
does what its predecessor had little interest in, which is advancing the aesthetic and composition of the band’s sound. Gone are the heat wave late-summer nights, replaced by the frigid ambience of mid-winter. The album is produced in such a way that familiar emo progressions are drained of their warmth, accented by additional instruments like chilly and resonant xylophones. On “Heir Apparent,” sharp reverbed guitars pierce through a locked-in rhythm section ornamented by pianos, sounding more like a jazz-shoegaze combo than a typical emo song. The fact that American Football make a conscious effort to try out different things and still find a way to test the boundaries of the genre is laudable, and makes songs like the opener “Silhouettes” more engaging than anything on LP2. Even when the band aren’t showing off new accoutrements, the instrumental performances shine; the spectacular “Doom in Full Bloom” builds up over the course of almost eight minutes with a gorgeous mixture of guitars and trumpet laid over precise drums. In a sense, it almost seems like this group of technically talented musicians are showing the BandCamp emo kids how it’s really done, and it’s hard to deny how compelling these instrumental parts are.
Unfortunately, the core problem with the record is held over from the last album: Mike Kinsella. While it is of course completely unfair to blame an artist for changing his vocal style over two decades and a prolific solo career – particularly considering that he was so young when LP1 was released – the overwrought and saccharine lilt of Owen vocals is distracting and difficult to ignore. The biggest offender is in the otherwise strong “Uncomfortably Numb,” which starts right off the bat with Kinsella moaning “Sensitivityyyyy” in a way that sounds like a Jarrod Alonge satire of the band. The strength of the melodies varies throughout the record, and a few habits arise again and again. However, these flaws might just be magnified by his over-pronunciation, as the multiple guest performances all sound great and provide a necessary respite. The indulgent vocals are often intensified by the lyrics themselves. For all intents and purposes, Kinsella appears to view American Football as emo in the most extreme sense possible – whereas the original album was endearingly overwrought in a relatable sense, turning the typical indignities of adolescence into tragedies, many of the songs on LP2 dealt with serious topics like suicide in the most jarring way possible, coming across as more dramatic than most LiveJournals. Fortunately, this record has nothing as unintentionally hilarious as "Doctor it hurts/When I exist" on it. In contrast, the themes on LP3 are quite clever – this is dad emo in a literal sense, and Kinsella is concerned with the challenges of fatherhood and moving on from the past. For many listeners, these words may resonate as much as LP1 did when they first heard them, but when delivered through a performance that sounds like an impression of an emotional singer they often sound ridiculous, lamp-shading the melodrama rather than making it believable and compelling.
American Football (LP3)
sounds fantastic, with beautiful instrumental performances, some truly exciting compositions, and a moody and frigid atmosphere that disrupts summer’s hegemony on emo rock. The themes of letting go of the past and facing new responsibilities are a natural development from the 1999 classic; unfortunately, vocals that demand attention from their beautiful surroundings hold back what could have been an unexpectedly transcendent record.