There’s an amusingly modest website called Is This Band Emo? Where users can type in a band name and a generator confirms whether they are or aren’t an emo band; the answer is plain and simple, without any trumpets or wurlitzers. Type in the band American Football - however - and the website not only affirms their emo status, they then proclaim, “In Mike Kinsella We Trust.” If John Lennon could argue in the ‘60s that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, then it’s possible that in the niche little pocket of modern emo music, Mike Kinsella is considered a god.
After the 1999 release of their first LP, American Football went dormant for over fifteen years. Mike Kinsella released several solo albums as Owen, while his college band gained a cult-like following akin to Neutral Milk Hotel. Giving into a decade-long demand, American Football reunited for a string of shows before deciding to release a follow-up record in 2016 (affectionately dubbed LP2). Trying to survive some nearly overblown hype from their ravenous fans, the band played into the legend of LP1. Both albums featured cover photos from the now iconic 704 W. High Street house - a landmark that tops many emo road trip bucket lists. While sounding slightly older on LP2, the band still catered to the essence of feeling young. They could have easily capitalized on that trend while churning out another album of emo-nostalgia; however, with LP3, American Football abandons the house and bravely journeys into the wilderness.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Mike Kinsella admits, “We’re not petulant kids now.” Although he could be referring to the entire emo scene, Kinsella is speaking specifically about the recording process of LP3. He continues, “We’re adults making concessions, and you appreciate what everyone is doing. If there’s something cool happening at the end, let’s ride it out. Let’s add a children’s choir, or vibraphones, or ringing bells.” That artistic development is evident in the third album, a record that transcends the genre and catapults American Football into mainstream indie rock. American Football have found a way to marry the maturity of Mike Kinsella’s solo work with pristine production values. The result is a hi-fi experience best played on headphones while taking long walks along the water.
Standout track “I Can’t Feel You” showcases Nate Kinsella on bass guitar. Joining the band at their reunion tour, Mike’s cousin Nate was originally brought on to round out their live shows. Now a full-time member - putting his own promising solo project on hold - Nate has fully surrendered to American Football, and his musicianship shines throughout the new album. “I Can’t Feel You” also features Rachel Goswell, who provides delicate and airy vocals on the track. Other guest vocalists included on the album are Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell - who offers transportive French lyrics on “Every Wave to Ever Rise,” and Paramore’s Hayley Williams, who delivers a surprisingly restrained performance on “Uncomfortably Numb.” That track features some of the album’s most arresting lyrics, with Kinsella singing, “I blamed my father in my youth / Now as a father, I blame the booze.” Clearly, American Football have moved beyond all those teenage feelings and are living in the moment, tackling issues like alcoholism and parenthood, set to the tune of glistening guitar rock.
LP3 is a sweeping experience that’s well worth the long journey outside that house on High Street. In Mike Kinsella We Trust, now more than ever.