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Elliott’s “Calm Americans” was a call to arms that no one followed

In Hear ThisA.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in honor of Independence Day in the United States, our favorite songs with the word “America” in their titles or lyrics.

In my mind, few records are as underrated as Elliott’s False Cathedrals. Spawned out of the Louisville, Kentucky hardcore scene—a sect that’s routinely offered some of the style’s most inventive bands, though few receive national attention—Elliott always had a skewed take on the form. Even on its earliest releases the band couldn’t help but show its grander ambitions, routinely getting lumped in with emo, but never truly fitting in with those angstier acts either. Two years prior to False CathedralsRefused had offered The Shape Of Punk To Come, and though many would imitate that kind of glitchy hardcore, Elliott took that album’s message to heart. Elliott dismantled any notions that it was merely an emo band, starting with how it chose to launch False Cathedrals.

“Calm Americans” is the album’s first real song—as the choir-filled “Voices” sets the stage, slowly building with piano until vocalist Chris Higdon’s voice cuts through the tension like a sharp, falsetto knife—and it sees the band reach its apex. Pianos swell and effects swirl, but Elliott still disrupts its majestic achievement by throwing electronic samples in the song’s bridge, seeing the example set by Refused and adapting it for its own needs. It’s hard to look at False Cathedrals and not see a band on the brink of a breakout, but one that ultimately never came. For all intents and purposes, “Calm Americans” was Elliott’s version of “New Noise,” a sweeping statement toward something new, but one that would spawn far less imitators in its wake.