Call it a revival, call it a fourth wave, just call it like it is: emo music has seen a huge resurgence in the past few years. In 2016, after a 17 year hiatus, Midwestern emo pioneers American Football released their highly anticipated second self-titled album to critical acclaim.
Regarded as one of the most influential albums from emo’s second wave, their first album, while going under the radar upon first release, has reached a cult level status in the emo music scene. While LP2 was widely praised for its subtle nods to the past, the albums nostalgic roots began to overshadow its musical successes (of which there were many). For some bands, references to the past are the only selling point of their new music (see Saves The Day’s 9), but a band with as much sheer musical talent as American Football doesn’t necessarily need nostalgia to sell records.
With their latest self-titled effort on Polyvinyl, they finally seem comfortable as the modern iteration of American Football: not just a reunion, but an actual touring band creating new music. Joked as being the “post-house album” by the band, LP3’s cover features an ethereal shot of Urbana by photographer Chris Strong, the same photographer who shot that iconic house photo. The cover is a perfect metaphor for the album itself: similar, yet new and different.
Building on the confessional songwriting and lush musicality of LP2, LP3 features more Steve Reich influenced musical experimentation than its predecessor, with everything from bells to a children’s choir filling the spacious arrangements. Guest female vocalists add an even richer sound, with Hayley Williams from Paramore trading lines with singer/songwriter Mike Kinsella on “Uncomfortably Numb”, Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell singing lyrics that were custom written in French for her on “Every Wave to Ever Rise”, and Rachel Goswell of Slowdive bringing shoegaze influenced harmonies to “I Can’t Feel You”. Closer in sound to their 1999 debut than LP2 yet still fresh and modern, it’s as if they finally found their footing as a group after nearly 2 decades apart.
While their debut took cues from earlier Kinsella family projects, the new iteration of American Football sounds less like the quiet, sad younger brother of Cap’n Jazz and more like the brooding, loud cousin of Owen, Kinsella’s solo project. Vocally, he has risen from post rock influenced teenage yowls to sonorous Morrissey-like crooning, letting his contemplative lyrics shine through the dreamy soundscapes they used to fade into. “I’m sorry for aging/growing more and more disinterested in celebrity and politic/I’m unapologetically for maybe more than anything sorry that you love me,” he sings on “Heir Apparent”, proving that the penchant for writing sad and emotional lyrics doesn’t go away with age. Verses sound as if they were ripped from Owen’s notebooks. Brazen and emotional yet earnestly self-aware, Kinsella has a knack for narrating the struggles of adulthood over twinkling guitars and unconventional time signatures.
The 17 year hiatus and subsequent 3 years spent recording LP3 was well worth it: like a fine wine, American Football only gets better with age. In the wake of emo revivals and nostalgia, it’s refreshing to see a band with as much of a cult following as American Football come back and continue to release new material without seeming stale. With LP3, they’ve proven that some hiatuses are necessary for artists to find their footing and inevitably create some of their best work.