Two years ago, Chapel Hill's Americans in France arrived with two qualities that set them apart: First and most immediate was their attitude, a semi-intellectual misanthropy that flirted with searing political barbs countered by sneering slacker disdain. The trio would attack the country's entire infrastructure and then duck behind a line like "Dear U.S., I've got a fist for your sister." The second and most impressive asset was the trio's precision. They cleaned up arty indie rock and injected it with anxious punk energy, channeling it all through a litany of fast and furious meter changes. The purpose and power added vitality to their modernist tantrums.
Americans in France return with Crawling, a sophomore LP that proves there's more to the group than clever fuck-offs and a contempt for time signature. In these 11 songs, the band dips its established style into a luxurious psychedelic sound, one that embellishes the once-jarring approach by buffing the rough edges just the slightest bit. They still have a ball shifting structures at a moment's notice, but now they've covered everything with a gloriously coarse fuzz that mitigates the jolting nature of their music. Crawling, then, is both immersive and invigorating.
"Success," for instance, begins with a patient riff, but it soon contorts into minor-keyed meanderings before launching into a frenzied tirade: "You're not a businessman/ you don't have a business plan," guitarist Josh Lajoie jeers before the band joins him, screaming, "Success can suck it! Excess is nothing!" You can intuit the structural changes below the noise, creating undulations that you can feel if not quite decode. The formula lives up to the song's exclaimed credo: Sharp, pointed rock gained them their rep, but these Americans have improved their product, slightly burying their calling cards in service of something bolder and richer. Actually, excess is another thing they do well.