Record #360: American Footbal – LP2 (2016)

American Football’s 1999 full length has long been a singular masterpiece, celebrated by emo kids and math rockers alike for both the bittersweetness of its lyrics and its deft, intricate compositions. But now, that masterpiece is not so singular, thanks to this reunion album no one ever expected to happen. 
While it’s usually not a good call to judge a book (or album, so to say) by its cover, this one is pretty telling. The first American Football record’s iconic cover looks up at the lighted windows of a second story bedroom in a suburban house, wondering what sort of tiny tragedies were happening in those walls. On LP2, we’re walking inside.

And with the lyrics, there’s no more guesswork to be done. Throughout his various musical projects (and there have been many), Mike Kinsella has never shied away from relational dramatics, but he has never been this explicit. LP1 trafficked largely in nostalgia–looking back at lovers damaged by the trappings and trials of time, wishing things could have gone differently.

LP2, on the other hand, is a portrait of a marriage falling apart. Twin chiming guitar lines open the album, with Mike Kinsella setting the album’s scene: “Both alone in the same house.” It’s a punch to the gut, but it’s nothing compared to the moment when the full band kicks in with the lyric, “I can’t remember if the lock on the door is for keeping me out or you in.”

The term “emo” gets thrown around a lot, usually deriding adolescent laments like realizing that relationships don’t always work out. Here, however, Mike Kinsella is a man in his thirties realizing that his life hasn’t turned out the way he planned, despite his best efforts. This are songs by a man at a crossroads, examining the foundation his life is built on. It’s a brave, vulnerable album that drops a bomb on you as soon as it starts and doesn’t let up.

And musically, it’s just as mature. LP1 has been praised for its odd time signatures and carefully constructed guitarwork. LP2 doubles, or even triples down on that format. Songs often change meter between lines, sounding just as disoriented and scrambling as the lyrics.

If that implies that it’s a mess, I don’t mean it to–a mess would be a band that can’t play that can’t handle such nimble acrobatics trying to anyway. But this is American Football–tightrope walkers and trapeze artists in their element. They not only construct these obstacle courses, but they traverse them with ease.

​If I’m completely honest, I prefer this album to LP1, but that’s blasphemy in some circles, so I’ll settle on saying it is a more mature record that packs the same punch, and let you draw your own conclusions.

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