The first thing that stood out to me about American Football’s third self-titled LP, “LP3” was the album’s cover – gone is the famous house in Urbana, Illinois, that was featured so prominently on the covers of their first two LPs, replaced instead with a hazy shot of a lake at sunset. This change is reflective of the direction American Football has moved on this record. The songs here are still Midwest emo through and through, but the band has doubled down on the post-rock influences that tinged their phenomenal ‘99 debut. This leads to the songs on this record feeling somewhat intangible, as if masked in a thick bank of fog. Sloppier songwriting could have made these songs feel amorphous and unmemorable, but that’s not the case here. It’s easy to get lost in the grooves of “LP3,” but it’s almost universally rewarding to do so as well.
The production on this record is immaculate, bordering on sterile. This cleanness is essential on the first leg of the record, where it maximizes the nebulous, ethereal feeling of the first few cuts. The songwriting dips slightly in quality after the halfway point of the record, though. Never bad enough to be unbearable, but not entirely good enough to reward listeners for navigating them either.
When the tracklist for this record was released a few months ago, I was incredibly curious about the inclusion of several female guest vocalists peppered through the album. On their first LP, frontman Mike Kinsella’s vocals are carried heavily by the record’s incredible instrumentals. He certainly didn’t harm the quality of the songs with his performance, but the juxtaposition of including such talented singers as Hayley Williams of Paramore, or Rachel Goswell of Slowdive, would be unimaginable. 20 years of performing in other bands has really allowed Kinsella to come into his own as a singer though, and it leads to some amazing interplay between his soft, youthful voice and that of his guests. The alternating lines between Kinsella and Williams on “Uncomfortably Numb” particularly stand out, and tie with the transition between the choir at the end of “Heir Apparent” and the trumpet that brings in “Doom In Full Gloom” as my favorite moments on the record.
LP3 doesn’t do everything perfectly, but it does enough things so well and so differently from previous American Football efforts that it manages to rival the genius of their first LP — especially following the release of their disappointing second album in 2016. That was a sentence I never thought I would say.
8/10 – This release should be on every emo fan’s radar.