March 18, 2019 American Football – American Football (LP3) (Album Review)
To some, three is a magical number. Not only is it greater than two, but it has its own special phrase—which is “the third time’s a charm.” In the case of Illinois band American Football, the third time really Is the charm. Since the band released its first full-length back in 1999, called LP1 , it would not be until 2016 when a second full-length would arrive—aptly titled LP2. With each release, American Football builds a small totem pole; and on March 22, 2019, the band just may have found its crowning piece in LP3, which will be the band’s third self-titled release off Polyvinyl Records.
Fans of American Football will have already gotten an idea in which direction Lead Singer/Guitarist Mike Kinsella was taking the band in LP2, a hint heard in Kinsella’s new-found vocal style which meshed together the likes of Jeremy Enigk (ex-Sunny Day Real Estate), Nathan Ellis (The Casket Lottery), and Morrissey (ex-The Smiths). On LP3, Kinsella perfected his new style: softly, lowly singing his words which has this charming climb through every syllable, while exacting the low-end for when the oomph is necessary. Kinsella’s guitar-playing is another great force on LP3. The notes he plucks are dreamy and picturesque, but also sound downright complicated, causing one to wonder how he remembered everything when it came to recording.
There is hardly a power chord on American Football’s LP3, nor is there hardly an ounce of distortion. Every note is a climb up and down, and are each quite gorgeous in the way they are constructed. Bass player Nate Kinsella holds these notes together, adding rich, lush bass lines with his intricate stop/go-style of playing. A perfect example of Nate’s amazing bass-playing is heard on first track “Silhouettes.” Matching these bass melodies is Drummer Steven Lamos, who has a fantastic way with hi-hats, and with odd-timed structures, throughout the entire album. Behind Nate and Lamos stands Lead Guitarist Steven Holmes, who brings in a ghostly vibe to every song, and is probably the only one stomping on a distortion pedal. Holmes adds so much depth to the stories Mike Kinsella is trying to tell, as if he were a ghost whispering notes in a dark room.
Producer/Engineer Jason Cupp’s recording of LP3 is straight-up haunting, filled with reverb and echos, while keeping a tight focus on every single instrument involved in the album. Not a single note nor drum is lost in the mix. Kinsella’s voice sounds doubled, tripled, or just laced in a chorus/vibrato effect during mixdown, but this effect nonetheless gives LP3 its cherry on top. Cupp should be proud of what he had helped American Football to release as its third record.
While LP3 has eight tracks of new goodies from the band, only two are fewer than five minutes. The first song “Silhouettes” reaches over seven minutes long: a daring album-intro of length, but will prove awarding once the listener falls under the song’s spell—and to Nate Kinsella’s bass lines. Thereafter “Every Wave To Ever Rise” has a similar vibe as the aforementioned first track, only slower in tempo. This song features guest Canadian vocalist Elizabeth Powell (Land Of Talk), offering-up some of Kinsella’s lyrics in French.
However, the biggest highlight of LP3 comes with “Uncomfortably Numb.” There is an array of some of the most amazing musicianship all over this track, and is also the shortest song on the entire album. Harmonics (guitar strings plucked but the frets not pressed all the way down) have never sounded as pretty as they do here on this track. And with Kinsella’s infectious melodies and lyrics, this could be the band’s Song Of The Year.
What makes “Uncomfortably Numb” stand out the most is the inclusion of Singer Hayley Williams (Paramore), who never overshadows Kinsella nor the band, melding together instead, becoming one of the greatest band team-ups heard in a long while. She and Kinsella give one hell of a call-and-response performance during many of the lyrical moments, but listeners will fall in love with Williams during her solo-verse. Another great feature, and one that is quite memorable, is the very last line Kinsella sings before the last note fades away. Selling this song even further, though, is Kinsella’s perfect nod to Pink Floyd, done here in the most minute, but simply gorgeous of ways.
American Football’s LP3 proves that the third time is truly the charm. It is an album as haunting as it is beautiful, as heartbreaking as it is uplifting, and as thought-provoking as it is dreamy. Kinsella’s lyrics and melodies are impeccable, and his bandmates are phenomenal musicians. Recommended listening to with a pair of headphones in order to appreciate the nuance of the recording, Cryptic Rock gives LP3 5 out of 5 stars.