Review Summary: Goodbye house of past, hello plains of present and future.
Mid-year Reviews Series: (Part 2)
In cold, misty dawn, the dark blue color of the sky shone through a window of a study of a dilapidated manor, where the fireplace was burning its wavering, ghostly flame, dimly lighting the room. As the troubled owner of the house in the room, sitting in front of the fireplace, drinking the remaining champagne from the last bottle, throwing it into the wall after finishing it, leaving it to be crashed into fragments. He then lit and smoked his fifth cigarette, watching a heavily damaged family portrait above the fireplace, with only his own face remained, where the face of the others have been torn out by him prior. While he bellowed dissonantly for his mistakes and jerking tears filled with regret, the smoke from the burning cigarette fly through the window and blend into the swirling mist outsides. Perhaps such picture described above is the portrait of regrets which is similar to emo godfathers American Football
’s third studio album(which is, of course, also self-titled like the previous two), vast, melancholic and bleary. Unlike the previous two albums, which centred on the theme of breakup and loneliness and the jazz-infused math-rock and post-rock elements, this album is surprisingly expansive both lyrically and sonically, as it explores the lyrical themes of middle-aged themes and the experimentation of blending dream pop elements and introducing female vocals and choirs to their sonic palette. As a result, this album is not only a stunning follow-up to its rather underwhelming predecessor, but a proper spiritual follow up to the band’s legendary debut album released 25 years ago.
Just take the misty opener “Silhouettes” as an example: Opened with a twinkling xylophone, then followed with moody synths, buzzing electronic signals, and then blossomed into a full band section with slithering, reverberated guitars, thick, syrupy bass and sparse yet propelling drums, with bandleader Mike Kinsella’s languorous vocals sprinkled on all the sounds, where he spoke in a perspective of a cheating husband to his romantic partner, as he expressed his regrets about his infidelity (“I’m a cloud when you come home to me/Tell me again, what's the allure of inconsequential love
”) and his uncontrolled libido(“Oh, the muscle memory, it must take to stay close to me
”), while lamenting the infidelity act continues to haunt him (“Oh, the muscle memories continue to haunt me
”). The result is a beautiful song that sets the tone for the rest of the album: a record that is drenched with the dread of aging and the regrets about mistakes you made through your growth towards adulthood. Throughout the album, Kinsella and co. also discussed numerous topics, such as distancing relationships (the brooding, arpeggiated guitar-driven “Doom In Full Bloom”, the brighter “Mine To Miss”) and prison in past guilts(“Life Support”), showcasing the band has grown up successfully as musicians, as they have successfully written haunting lyrics and no longer being stuck in themes of heartbreak and isolation. As a result, LP3
is an album that is still relatable to many listeners, while moving towards maturity and explored new sounds of dream pop, making this record an immersive experience.
On the other hand, the band embraced the use of various vocalists as well, making this mesmerizing album more adventurous and interesting. For instance, the slow-burning triumph that is “Heir Apparent”, where Kinsella moaned about his selfishness(“There's more of you and me than a desperate thief could ever set free/Now I'm your burden
”) and jealousy(“All of your best attributes look better on me than they ever did on you
”) towards his kin in this flute-accompanied tune, while apologising that him being not being caring enough and not catching up the times(“I’m sorry for aging/Growing more and more disinterested in celebrity and politic
”), only to end with a child choir section repeating the following lyrics, “Heir apparent to the throne/The king of all alone
”, as if Kinsella spoke in the perspective of a dying father to his estranged child about his poor parenting in the past and that he finally went to heaven, guided by the angels. The band also know how to experiment with duets as well: the nocturnal, poppy duet with Hayley Williams that is the Pink Floyd-homaged “Uncomfortably Numb” is perhaps the most accessible album in the record, with Kinsella lamented in a perspective of a troublesome father about his childhood domestic violence and alcoholism led him to become insensitive(“I blamed my father in my youth/Now as a father, I blame the booze
”), while becoming oblivious towards his mistakes(“The further I get from home/How will I exist without consequence？
”). On the other hand, Williams sang as the father’s wife, as she lamented about their happy beginnings(“We were gentle to begin, when I pushed you around to break you in
”), yet now she realized that the relationship is nothing but a stalemate (“Now whenever I try to be clear with you, I only end up feeling see-through
”);the gorgeous “Every Wave to Ever Rise”, which is perhaps the more classic American Football song in this album, is a melancholy tale of unrequited love, as Kinsella presented as a man being hesitant on accepting his crush’s confession(“All the flowers you brought me/One by one fell asleep without me
”) and regretted on not accepting it quickly(“The clock on my wall is stuck on yesterday
”), with Land of Talk frontwoman Elizabeth Powell sang about how the crush makes her ill and how it becomes a burden(“Truth or dare/Love is the cross you bear
”), a beautiful recall to their early days; the wintery mystique that is “I Can’t Feel You” sounds like the band wrote a Slowdive
song, which is not surprising considering this song actually featured the latter’s vocalist Rachel Goswell, as she painted the songs with her signature ghostly vocals, singing as the girlfriend who faced her relationship disintegrating due to communication breakdown, while Kinsella lamented that every word they speak to each other as difficult(“The whispers unfold/Pained and pleading/So self-defeating
”) and how the relationship became torturous because of it(“I can defuse most anything, but you made my head explode
”). In other words, the already beautiful record has just been flourished with the experimentation of additional vocals, proofing the band is capable of expanding their sonic canvas without sacrificing their signature sound.
The only flaw here is that the songs could be too sparse and quiet at times, as the band traded the more intense compositions and more propulsive guitars with sparser songwriting and dreamier instruments, which makes the album lost its intrigue. Nonetheless, LP3
is nonetheless a breathtaking album that properly paints the bleak portrait of being in middle age, flourished beautifully by the dream-pop-oriented production, expanding the scope that very few contemporaries could achieve in similar stages while retaining their signature sound of math rock-riddled post-rock. Although the band did prove that they are more than a “one-album band” with LP2
, it somehow sounds like an Owen
album with a strong doses of American Football style guitar lines and licks, which somehow lacked both its charm and uniqueness in terms. LP3
, however, finds the band ditched both the jagged catharsis in their debut and the polished lament of the second album, and created something that is both refreshing and exciting due to its newfound enigmatic and misty sound, just like how they forfeit the house cover they used in the first two albums for the misty woods plain in this record. As a result, the result is perhaps not just the band’s most enchanting release since their full-length debut, but one of the best albums in 2019.
Personal Rating: 4.42/5
Doom In Full Bloom