American Football: “Uncomfortably Numb” | Song Essay
by American Football from the album LP3 (2019).
Contrary to popular opinion, a second-life career was the last thing I expected from Illinois’ emo legend, American Football. The Smiths, and Minor Threat, are some bands I highly admire for not living too long, yet their legacy remains strong even to these days. Some went even deeper and attained mythical status, like Rites of Spring, Mineral, Christie Front Drive, Texas is the Reason, The Postal Service, Operation Ivy, Indian Summer and ultimately, Slint. American Football was once on the list. They broke up after playing barely 20 shows. The band was never intended to be anything, the record was released after their breakup. But for some, AF, LP1, and that house meant so much. Those were indeed some of the best things ever from the midwest and emo scenes that would later influence a wave of musicians and dedicated followers.
15 years later, the deluxe version reissue of the legendary album was released via Polyvinyl Records, and they were scheduled to play a couple of reunion shows. The response though was unexpectedly positive. Since then, a second-life career was established. The band is now almost like a new band (we won’t hear Mike Kinsella’s shy boy voice as it was two decades ago), and ‘Never Meant’ has now become a coffee shop essential. The band was growing and threw out a follow-up to LP1, called, LP2 (literally). However, LP2 was definitely one of the worst things to ever happen in the history of emo. Not only the music on it was bad, what even worse is the fact that its presence somehow broke the legacy of American Football with their LP1 for being a standalone legendary album, in emo or even the history of modern music. Now, 3 years after LP2 we’ve got another unexpected continuation of the two predecessors, namely, LP3. Yet this one does not feature white borders on its cover anymore.
Now, as for the single, “Uncomfortably Numb”, to be honest, I was very sceptical towards this song at first. The title sounds like a parody of that famous late-70s power ballad by Pink Floyd. And the featured guest… is the singer of a female-fronted boring false emo band from the 00s. That was until I accidentally heard the song being played on Washed Up Emo podcast. What I heard was quite surprising. The twinkly math-riffing is still there, but the overall musical direction has shifted. In LP3 American Football present a texturally lush approach of sound, rich in instrumentation and very dreamy in production. While “Uncomfortably Numb” is the most straightforward song on the record, it is definitely the catchiest too.
It opens with delicate natural guitar harmonics that sounds almost like a xylophone, coated with a thin layer of atmosphere. The vocal is rather hazy. The best part of the song lies in its first chorus. The vocal intersection between Mike Kinsella and Hayley Williams is probably the best moment in the entire album, and the coolest thing about it is the way it ends with a powerful question left unanswered: “How will you (I) exist without consequence” / “I’ll let you know.”. In my personal opinion, that 10 seconds featured-vocal by Hayley Williams is much better than the entire career she had invested herself in Paramore.
Although nothing in LP2 and LP3 is nearly as good as anything off the great LP1. But “Uncomfortably Numb” is definitely one heck of a song. Go check it out and let’s see how long the passage at 2:03–2:13 minute mark will stay in your head.