American Football is an emo/math rock four piece from Urbana, Illinois. They debuted with a self-titled EP in 1998 which gained them quite a bit of underground buzz for their unique sound, impressive instrumental abilities, and garage-based aesthetic. Just a year later, they dropped their self-titled LP which is something of a landmark for the emo genre. The album is universally praised, and saw the band sore to new heights of popularity, even years after their abrupt split. Without any new material to follow up, the self-titled release achieved near mythic status. Finally, in 2016, 17 years after their debut, they released the much celebrated LP2. Thankfully, there was no near 20 year wait for the third entry, and LP3 has just arrived.
The record is immediately notable for a unique and broad instrumental pallet. The bells on the opener, “Silhouettes,” are fascinating, dancing across the stereo image and carrying a well written melody. On a cut like “I Can’t Feel You,” on the other hand, there are choruses of humming and marimbas being used perfectly in tandem the more traditional instruments for an almost other worldly feel. Most importantly, each of these strange and surprising instruments is perfectly integrated into the mix so as to avoid feeling like a gimmick.
Beyond this, though, the core instruments are fantastic! The rhythms and bass line on a cut like “Heir Apparent,” inject just the right amount of energy and variety into the song. Of course, they take a back seat to the lead guitar work which is the strongest driving force behind every track, never overpowering but always leading. This is achieved to perhaps the best effect on the closer, “Life Support.” American Football has always been respected, primarily, for their instrumental abilities, and LP3 leans into this heavily.
This all leads to a chilling and at times haunting tone. On “Every Wave to Every Rise,” for example, the band utilizes repetition and minimalism in a way that feels almost clinical, leaving a listener searching for any sense of warmth or melody. The thick layers of complex guitar lines add to this general disorientation, with the quiet but present harmonies and rare moments of conjunction bringing a sense of relief.
I also found myself quite blown away by the band’s ability to flesh out every idea they present. Take a song like “Doom In Full Bloom,” which runs just shy of eight minutes, which can often feel like a life time, particularly with soft rock acts like American Football. Instead, this cut is able to be at once luscious and completely frigid. The many interesting instruments hidden in the mix make repeat listens a treat, and the perfectly toned drums and virtuosic guitar refrains make it infinitely entertaining. Overall, it’s the best track on the album, and a testament to American Football’s abilities as songwriters.
This brings us to the album’s strongest point without a doubt, that being the production. It’s already an obvious achievement to helm such a wide variety of instruments, as is unmistakable on a song like “Mine to Miss.” The way bells and horns gently dance in and out of nearly every track is wonderful, and takes an experienced hand. However, even on relatively simple tracks like the lead single, “Uncomfortably Numb,” the stereo image swirls around a listener gently, almost hypnotizing. Haley Williams’ voice sounds excellent on her feature and the guitars seem to ring forever, only to be split in half by the sharpness of the snares. From the big and obvious to the small and subtle, virtually every aspect of LP3’s production is nothing short of perfect.
All said, this is a great album. While it doesn’t jump out to blow you away from the first moments, the subtle touches, wide pallet, and despondent tone make for a moving and cohesive listening experience. It’s not perfect as the vocals are only passible, save a few great features, and the pacing can seem unbearable to non-fans. It’s not for everyone, but if you love this brand of soft but complex emo rock, it’s a must listen.
LP3 is a luscious piece of math rock that deserves to be heard in one long sitting, and a worthy third entry to the American Football catalog.
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