American Football: LP3 - Album Review

A welcome sequel to the much-derided comeback.

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As chimes sound at the start of American Football’s third record, something stirs. The speed increases, and a tranquil guitar line decorates an ambient shelf, further punctuated by a two-note bass pattern. The chimes grow to a cacophony, and rest in their volume for a moment before bursting into the first track, “Silhouettes.” American Football’s now-iconic voice in Mike Kinsella delivers a breathy, understated phrase, “Two wet/Silhouettes/Splayed on the bed sheet,” a gradual embrace to an audience that hasn’t felt familiar with the band since 1999. In a single turn of phrase, Kinsella and the band ease the disappointment that was LP2, offering a modernized approach to their signature soft-jazz-rock style. LP3 features Hayley Williams, Rachel Goswell of Slowdive, and the best songwriting the band has put forth since their debut.

LP3 makes a case for dynamic sound. Not in the track-to-track sense, but in a career, over the course of many albums. American Football set themselves up for a difficult return after taking a 17 year absence between records, wherein most presumed the band ended. The unexpected weight of LP2 as a signifier for the band’s longevity feels all but lifted on LP3, the band’s sharp, crisp, and rewarding return to grace. The songs aren’t the same as LP1; long gone are the springing guitars of “Never Meant,” replaced by cascading tones and a fuller sound palette that compliments the band surprisingly well.

LP3 is growth, the chance to earn back the love and attention of fans through a step forward, out of the insurmountable expectations the band set for themselves when they became the staple group of the indie-emo movement. After 1999, they went on to inspire dozens of artists, but now is the first time American Football have begun to echo one of the biggest: Ben Gibbard. Whether through his time in Death Cab for Cutie or The Postal Service, LP3 mirrors much of what Gibbard has been up to in the last decade: the picture-perfect guitars, seen lying in preserved disarray all over Death Cab’s last LP, and especially the singing style. The chorus of “Uncomfortably Numb,” one of the catchiest songs here, evokes Gibbard’s boyish longing, contextualized by a band that still knows how to write songs that compliment the voice.

At eight tracks, LP3 misses the quality of LP1 and other indie classics in typical fashion: not every song is up to par. The lush and instantly catchy “Heir Apparent” is followed by “Doom in Full Bloom,” not only a cliche title, but a bloated, album-slowing dud. Many American Football hallmarks make appearances: slow guitar/horn opener, increasing build, whispy vocal layers, yet the song refuses to travel past the speed and dynamics of its opener, forcing it into repeating the same lazy refrain. “Silhouettes” is just as long, but makes use of its time with shifting speeds, tighter drum breaks, and a melody that evolves steadily with a strong base. LP3 is strong, but it only takes one so-so track to stop it in its tracks, of which there are a few too many. “Doom in Full Bloom” is unwisely followed by another plodding, slow guitar/chime intro song, this one with help from Rachel Goswell. It’s better, but not by much, and at this point in the record, there’s a real feeling of confusion in where the band is taking their modernized sound, one they don’t earn back until the album starts over and the promising chimes of “Silhouettes” ring once again.