American Football’s Third Album is a Blizzard of Complex Emo Rock

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.

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.

8/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

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Badflower’s Debut is Flawed but Exciting

OK, I’m Sick is imperfect, but a promising start for an exciting new rock band.

Badflower is an alt-rock four piece from Los Angeles, California. They signed with Hundred Handed Records in 2014 and released their debut single, “Soap,” the following year. They began touring as an opening act for The Veronicas in Europe and gained quite a buzz within the industry. This eventually lead to their being approached by Republic Records who began a complicated discussion of buying their contract out from Hundred Hands. Frustrated with this process, Badflower took to their garage to record and self-produce their debut EP, Temper. The project was extremely successful with singles charting in the top 40, larger crowds attending their shows, and a few spots in rock festivals across the country. After building an impressive following, especially in the difficult landscape of current alt-rock music, Badflower has finally released their debut LP, OK I’M SICK.

From the very start of the record, it’s clear that the instrumentation is a driving force behind Badflower’s sound. Guitarist Joey Morrow drops quite a few impressive riffs across the album from the opener, “x ANA x,” to “Die,” on the latter half of the LP, he benefits quite a bit from a thick, fuzzy effects that allows the guitar work to cut to the front of each song. On top of this, his riffs and solos are not only impressively performed, but extremely listenable and well written.

This is also true for Alex Aspiritu on bass. While much of the bass work on the album serves to add depth to the already powerful instrumental pallet, it also has a few moments in the spotlight. On by far the best cut of the record, “Heroine,” or on a track like “Wide Eyes,” the bass not only plays its own interesting melody, but when the full instrumental falls back, its often the bass guitar that carries the track. I’ve said before that the sign of a great rock band is their bass player, and Aspritu does excellent work on this album.

There’s also some great songwriting on this album. This is especially true in the melody department, as tracks like “The Jester,” and “Ghost,” feature earworm choruses without sacrificing the overall edge of the album. In a modern music landscape that isn’t exactly friendly to rock music, the ability to write a strong chorus and hook is extremely important and luckily, it’s a skill that Badflower seems to posses.

Perhaps a bit less noticeable, however, is the lyrical quality of many of these tracks. “Daddy,” for example, deals in difficult subject matter with an admirably unflinching hand, translating much of the discomfort caused by the story into relentlessly honest writing. “Girlfriend,” on the other hand, is an old school, blues cut with comical lyrics that mirror the punk energy that comes with the instrumentals.

All this being said, Okay, I’m Sick ultimately lives and dies by Josh Katz’ vocal work, which is, for the most part, excellent. There are clear influences from the likes of Gerard Way and Jack White, but he makes the sound his own with emotive delivery and a manic energy lifted straight from the pop-punk days of the early 2000’s. On a track like “Murder Games,” he’s able to stand out above a raucous band. The closer, “Cry,” on the other hand, sees Josh carrying a much longer track as one of the most dynamic and interesting elements.

The shortcomings on the record can be narrowed down to one specific area and that is production. There is a depressing multitude of songs, namely “We’re in Love,” “Promise Me,” or “24,” that are all but ruined by the mixing and production. The majority of the problem is characterized by an insistence on sanding down every hard edge across the entire album. It sucks the life out nearly every cut and robs several tracks of any energy.

Despite this, OK, I’m Sick is a largely enjoyable experience. It hits many of the best points of alt-rock and emo-rock but injects enough melody and energy to make the record accessible to fans outside the genre.

OK, I’m Sick is imperfect, but a promising start for an exciting new rock band.

6/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2HcppUD

Calling All Captains Drops Energetic Label Debut

Nothing Grows Here is an bombastic EP from an exciting young band.

Calling All Captains is a emo/pop-punk five-piece from St. Albert, Canada. They formed in early 2014 and released their debut EP, A Way With Words later that year, which followed many of the tropes of pop-punk of the era with a fair share of catchy songwriting. They went on to release a follow up in 2016 entitled, Disconnect. This project was noticeably heavier, especially in the instrumentation which featured much more active and intricate drum work, though there was a bit of screaming incorporated into the vocals. Their underground success lead to a signing with indie label, Equal Vision, best known for alums like Coheed and Cambria and We Came as Romans. With a studio budget and a couple releases under their belt, Calling All Captains has dropped their Equal Vision debut in the form of Nothing Grows Here.

The EP opens with the band’s recent hit single, “Chasing Ghosts.” It’s a strong single and an even better opener as it really sets the tone for the entire track list. There’s an excellent tone coming out of the rhythm guitar and the group is extremely tight, rhythmically. Best of all, Luc Gauthier’s lyrics have matured quite a bit between releases as he know writes fairly thoughtfully, avoiding some of the pop-punk tropes that acted as pitfalls on the last two EP’s.

They continue with the more low-key title track. Above all else, the song is highlighted by yet another powerful rhythm guitar performance.While the verses leave something to be desired melodically, the chorus makes up for the short coming in spades as one of the most catchy moments on the entire EP. The dropout is very well done, and the track closes out strong.

“Fools Gold,” follows and is perhaps the best of the five tracks. Gauthier’s vocals are emotional and dynamic with quite a bit of power filling out yet another extremely catchy verse. The track is, not unlike the rest of the EP, driven by Tim Wilson’s active and creative drum work, using cymbal crashes to accent explosive moments and lightning fast tom fills in between. Nick Malychuk’s bass also comes through much stronger here, anchoring the track very well.

Another of the lead singles is next, this time “Disconnected.” Here, the drums do tend to be a bit overwhelming, though they’re still expertly played. The bass is well placed once again, and this is yet another song with an excellent chorus and hook. The screams are at there best on this track, and the build out of bridge carries a lot of momentum into the outro.

The record closes with “Out of My Head,” which is simply fantastic. Maybe the only time when the verses hold up to the quality of the chorus, the track also features a the best bridge on the EP. The breakdown at the end is absolutely thunderous, drumming near the end is at a creative peak. It’s a strong close to a solid EP.

Overall, Nothing Grows Here accomplishes it’s goals with admirable precision. It’s an energetic label debut for Calling All Captains, and it shows off their instrumental prowess perhaps better than any previous work. I do have my complaints, however. 

The production is extremely stiff, leaving no room to breath for many of the instruments. The bass is often lost in the mix, a shame as it’s played so well by Malychuk. The lead guitars, though solid when they appear, are rarely heard despite the fact that almost every track is crying out for a strong lead riff. Finally, the pacing could use some attention, as the middle of the EP does seem to drag thanks to similar tempos and styles on each track. Most of these are minor issues here, but may present themselves more glaringly on a full length LP.

Nonetheless, Nothing Grows Here is an bombastic EP from an exciting young band.

4/5