New music from American Football is not something we get to enjoy often, and as we all know, with the passing of time comes the burden of expectation. So when the band’s third album dropped last week anticipation was high.
American Football begins with ‘Silhouettes’, a contender for most aptly named song title of the year. The first ninety seconds do little more than sketch the outline of what is to come. The general impression we get is elegant, refined and tender. What sounds like a glockenspiel drifts above a ethereal composition. In the best possible way, the band have become a little less direct, preferring instead to spend time exploring and getting lost in their own ideas.
‘Every Wave To Ever Rise’ continues the same themes, both musically and lyrically. Where ‘Silhouettes’ seemed to address the moment of revelation surrounding an infidelity; the second track seeks to examine the lasting feelings of hurt and betrayal which follow soon after. Elizabeth Powell of Land of Talk’s guest vocal appearances in the choruses are enchanting. They counterbalance the song’s sedate guitar solo just as it starts to weigh heavily upon the composition.
The track which grabbed all the headlines ahead of American Football’s release was ‘Uncomfortably Numb’, thanks to a vocal contribution from Paramore’s Hayley Williams. It isn’t hard to see why. The way in which she and American Football singer Mike Kinsella duet together is captivating.
The instrumentation supporting Mike and Hayley barely changes, giving the two voices space to play off each other. The one occasion that some form of instrumentation comes to the fore is in the third verse, where Steve Lamos’ gentle trumpet work envelops the listener in a deep, warm blanket of comforting tones. It’s absolutely breathtaking.
Perhaps the most urgent track on the album is ‘Heir Apparent’, the driving force behind which is Lamos’ shuffling drum rhythms. The choruses offer a rare moment of lighthearted instrumentation, but that is undercut by the morose and apologetic lyrical content. The outro hammers that message home with a refrain calling out the protagonist as the “king of all alone”.
‘Doom in Full Bloom’ is a more sedate affair, the highlight of which is the cascading guitar melody. It is the sort of trick American Football keep pulling out of their sleeve on this album to keep things interesting just when they might be on the verge of becoming repetitive.
The mesmeric guitar plucking continues on ‘I Can’t Feel You’ which also features the vocals of Slowdive vocalist Rachel Goswell. ‘Mine to Miss’ links back to the theme of infidelity, this time from a perspective chronologically further along looking back with regret. The opening and closing lines bookmark the story: “I miss you like a past life / I’ll miss you in the next life”. Not only is the protagonist in this tale missing the person they betrayed to the extent that their life seems to have split into two distinct sections which cannot be bridged; but they already know that their heavy heart means the feeling will never truly fade.
The album ends with ‘Life Support’, which also brings the lyrical tale to a close. Each verse comes from a different character: the first from the protagonist, reliving better times; and the second from the perspective of the victim, still hurting and feeling like their former partner is now a stranger.
The chorus and bridge feel like a shared outburst between the two. Both characters acknowledge they still lean on the other despite the rift between them. Having made it past the easiest part of this trauma – hurt and sadness – they are now faced with the prospect of forgiveness, but wonder if it is even possible to reach. As the song wraps up, the listener is still left unsure as to the story’s conclusion. It’s typical of American Football: leaving you craving more, desperate to hear what happens next.
That is what sets this band apart from their contemporaries, and demonstrates why so many bands consider them such an important influence. They are unparalleled in the way they write songs which you can draw so much from, and yet still feel ravenous for more. If we are being honest, was there ever any doubt that American Football would fail to deliver on the anticipation surrounding their third album? Expectations: consider them met.
Sounds Like… the soundtrack to a slow motion break up movie.