American Football Credit: Atiba Jefferson

Twenty years ago Illinois emo trio American Football released their self-titled debut to little interest or acclaim, but since then the wistful, gentle record has become a totem that’s eclipsed many bigger indie and emo releases of that era. Even the album’s cover art—an angled photo of an Urbana house none of the band’s members even lived in—has proved inspiring, becoming the subject of works of art and memes, as well as being referenced by bands on their own album sleeves. The unexpected, durable success of the album nudged the original members—guitarist Steve Holmes, drummer and trumpeter Steve Lamos, and singer-guitarist Mike Kinsella—to regroup in 2014, with Nate Kinsella joining in at the new position of bassist. The past has acted like American Football’s fifth member. Its shadow hangs over the band’s self-titled 2016 reunion album; for its cover, they chose a photo from inside the now-famed house on the front of their debut, and the record’s least compelling points serve as merely a reminder of the group’s old alchemical whoosh which inspired so many young people. For their brand-new release, another self-titled album that’s colloquially dubbed LP3 (Polyvinyl), American Football have successfully navigated their past and used it as a device to gaze at the future—and they’ve done so with a little help from others. On a few songs, Kinsella trades vulnerable vocals with high-profile guests: Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell (“Every Wave to Ever Rise”), Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell (“I Can’t Feel You”), and Paramore’s Hayley Williams (“Uncomfortably Numb”). All of the album’s windswept melodies, aching vocals, and contemplative lyrics offer an idea of what it means for a group of fathers—who spent most of the past 20 years building their lives outside this band—to find a way to move forward together.   v