Album Review: American Football from LP1 to LP3

The church of midwest emo was built on rocks like the band American Football.

American Football was (or rather, once was, they’ve reunited since 2014) one of those one-album-bands you hear about and can’t get your mind off of. Something about these kind of one-hit wonders seem so captivating and mysterious. Why did they break up? What did they play? Will they get back together? These are burning questions that initially drew me to them and their debut LP, American Football (LP1) in 1999. I started listening to them in my senior year of high school, and only really got back into them this past semester. I was on a bit of an emo kick and I had them in my backlog, so once more I decided to hear what they had to say. 

LP1 is regarded as one of the best emo albums, and for good reason. While not my favorite midwest emo album (The Lonesome Crowded West by Modest Mouse holds that place in my heart), they have a ton of positive qualities that put them up there. Singer, guitarist and principal songwriter Mike Kinsella lays his heart out on the record describing the relationship with his college girlfriend gradually and painfully disintegrating. He’s completed by the soft and intricate drum-work of Steve Lamos and the bright, twangy guitar-work of Steve Holmes. Lamos also lends his forlorn trumpeting to the album, making a downright sad record depressing. 

The one thing holding LP1 back would have to be the stretch of tracks from “For Sure” to “I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional,” which are kind of half baked and embryonic, mainly due to the rushed nature of recording and writing the album. Despite that, “Never Meant,” “Honestly?” and “Stay Home” are essential cuts from the album and arguably make up for its flaws.

The band broke up not long after that, mainly due to all the members of the band living away from one another. However, they reunited in 2014 with Kinsella’s cousin, Nate Kinsella, joining them on bass. They released American Football (LP2) not long after in 2016. While the album was well received by critics and was a bit more of a focused effort, it didn’t hit that same high water mark as LP1. With American Football (LP3) being released on the 22nd, it begs the question; how does it stack up to their genre-shaking debut and their modest sophomore record?

All things considered, I think it’s a definite improvement over LP2. In addition, I think they successfully evolved their sound from their emo roots to something fairly unique and dream poppy, but they also fall into similar pitfalls they faced on their debut. 

I really like the sound on this record. The production is incredibly lush, with special emphasis being placed on guitar and voice work. Mike and Holmes’ guitar are bright and shining, bouncing off and playing with one another, and Mike’s voice is distant and ethereal, mixed a bit further back compared to everything else. Mike also harmonizes incredibly well with guest vocalists Elizabeth Powell, Hayley Williams and Rachel Goswell on “Every Wave to Ever Rise,” “Uncomfortably Numb” and “I Can’t Feel You” respectively.

Continuing with the record’s instrumentation, Nate and Lamos’ technical bass and drum-work perfectly complements the guitars on this record. Their additional instruments, the glockenspiel and trumpet, respectively, add some flavor to this record whenever they crop up, although I do wish I heard them more often. As for lyrical content and delivery, I think Mike hits the sweet spot between his work on the last two LPs. 

The lyrics feature a lot of strong imagery, like with opening lyrics of “Silhouettes;” “Two wet/Silhouettes/Splayed on the bedsheet/Crime of the century/Forever unkempt/Oh, the muscle memory/It must take to stay close to me.” The aforementioned tracks and the closer “Life Support” are all great cuts from the album with equally strong lyrics. I think a problem that the first record had was that Mike didn’t sing enough, and when he did it was esoteric. While he sang too much on the second, his lyricism was very obvious. Mike reaches a compromise on LP3, and it works.

Once more, however, we hit the problem of filler, like on the first record. “Heir Apparent,” “Doom in Full Bloom” and “Mine to Miss” don’t really stand out compared to the other five tracks on the album. While this wasn’t as big as a problem on the first album, considering that the filler-ish tracks were short in length so that they didn’t bog the 40-minute debut down, it’s a problem here in that all these songs are over five minutes in length, with “Doom” being almost eight minutes long. Essentially, we got 20 minutes of filler on a fairly long listen of 47 minutes. If these tracks weren’t included, or if they were revised, I think LP3 could have surpassed LP1.

To wrap all this up, LP3 is a solid emo album, with plenty of great moments on it, but unfortunately hampered by a few filler-ish tracks. It’s definitely great to see these guys back in action and pursuing a new sound. Hopefully by LP4, they’ll work out the problem of filler and truly reach a lean, killer record. If I were to rate this album out of five stars, it’d be a solid three and a half. I eagerly await their next album.