If the original American Football record was all about capturing a moment–graduation, the end of an era, a relationship–their latest moment is something new—the marathon of adulthood, where one falls on old habits, some inherited, and the effects the grindstone of aging has on those around us–a reflection of the band’s current epoch and, well, age group. With a twinkling, and beautiful new sound, the band matches this new reality. Though not their first comeback record, it is the one we will remember, one that honors who they are while providing a new perspective on all the things that make them great.
So what’s the core of the band? There’s the occasional trumpet, the mathy landscapes, lead singer Mike Kinsella’s soft almost-tenor vocals—formerly reaching towards notes they couldn’t hit to expertly nail the aspirational tone of youth and now perhaps reaching backwards, towards one’s younger years—and the band’s moody tones which parse the difference between the somber nature of minor and the satisfaction of major.
On that basis, this is an American Football record, but the main innovation here is in the studio polish. These songs achieve a glacial thickness with all sorts of bells and whistles. Whether it be a huge slew of vocal tracking—especially true on the features—a rogue xylophone set, or some welcome slowdive-esque guitar sounds—the band is not settling down by any means. Now when a major chord comes in, it comes in crashing, and the moody jam sessions of tunes like “Every Wave to Ever Rise” or “Doom in Full Bloom” gradually become colossal in a way they never could have before. It’s not necessarily apocalyptic, rather fleshed out about as extensively as possible without becoming over-produced. Sure, some will miss the scrappiness of yesteryear, but American Football has always taken a tasteful dose from both Emo’s scrappy origins and ambient and shoegaze’s pristine textures, and this accomplishes just that.
The running lyrical themes also equally honor the band and look to the future. Of course there’s talk of lovers, the realization that someone was never meant for you, the classic falling out of phase moments, but there’s much more speak of time and aging, creating a new type of introspection.
Rather than awkward 20-something lack of experience (see: “Goodbye with a handshake, Or an embrace, Or a kiss on the cheek…possibly all three” or: I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional), here Kinsella wonders constantly about the relationship between his actions and his father’s. Most directly with the lyric “I blamed my father in my youth/Now I blame the booze,” but then there’s the utterly fascinating incorporation of a children’s choir on Heir Apparent where the lyric “Heir apparent to the throne/the king of all alone” fades into the mix over time. With lyrics addressed to his father and children sort of in the background, the band poses questions about how our individuality interacts with our upbringing.
This is a true masterclass in wearing “20 years since our break-out” as well as “complete make-over” on one’s sleeve. American Football know who they are, but they are certainly not done with us yet.