American Football’s first release in 17 years begins softly, with a quietly crescendoing set of chimes that reverberate through the ears. The delicacy of the noise evokes thoughts of tinkling wind chimes dancing in the wind, reminiscent of a sun soaked warm welcome back home after a long and tiring adventure.
The group was originally active from 1997 to 2000, releasing their first self-titled LP in 1999 and a few other works before disbanding. In the years since, the members have been working on separate ventures; vocalist Mike Kinsella started Owen, his current solo project, in 2001 and has also performed as a part of several Midwestern bands, while drummer Steve Lamos and guitarist Steve Holmes have also performed with other ensembles. According to American Football’s site, the 2016 LP, or LP2, was never even expected to exist.
LP2 has a gentle sound, fueled by Mike Kinsella’s burnished yet powerful voice, silky with honeyed nostalgia. Slow buildups and lulls in the sound blended with slightly unexpected vocal harmonies, steady and persistent bass and Steve Lamos’s multifaceted drumming are magnetizingly immersive, striking a perfect balance and ensuring that the vocals are never drowned out by the instrumentals.
American Football has a distinct imprint on the emo scene in part for their obscure time signatures, which lend the music an asymmetrical quality that not only complicates the instrumental line but also creates a complex, many-sided listening experience. In some of the songs, the guitars play on a completely different time signature from the drums. The irregular beats are particularly audible in “Give Me the Gun,” especially in the parts of the piece where Kinsella’s voice fades away and drumming takes the stage. The entire last minute of the song is an almost frenetic organized chaos of guitar and drum that gradually fades away into the same type of chiming that opened the LP in “Where Are We Now?”
Expressive, poetic lyrics are the glue that holds the music together, and LP2 has plenty of the same raw emotion that was present in the group’s first LP. In “I’ve Been So Lost For So Long,” stretching harmonies, irregular strumming and structured pauses weave together as Kinsella sings “If you need me, don’t / You can’t trust a man who can’t find his way home” and “Doctor, it hurts when I exist / This isn’t the pain I’m usually in / I hope it’s not contagious.” Kinsella’s delivery immaculately conveys the draining essence of apathy at its very worst.
Not every track is slow-paced, however. “Desire Gets In The Way,” track eight on the LP, has a noticeably more upbeat sound in comparison to the rest of the collection. Lighter, dancing guitar notes and quicker drumming are at the forefront of the song as Kinsella proclaims “ Desire gets in the way / you can’t hide such an ugly trait.” The bridge of the song is surprisingly mellow as most of the instrumentals vanish and Kinsella tenderly sings “For you, I’ll remain / chained to the bed we made.”
It’s rare for a group to come back full force after a breakup, and rarer still to do so after a 17 year long hiatus. With LP2’s warm, undulating sound, American Football proves that they are more than ready for the challenge.