I have a strange relationship with the American Analog Set. I’ve only seen them live once at a festival, and I didn’t even really “see” them. I don’t even come close to having their complete discography. And yet, I can’t imagine what life would be like without them. Know By Heart became an instant favorite of mine. In fact, it’s an essential. My girlfriend and I decided that “Punk as Fuck” will be played at our wedding. A café a few blocks from my house plays their music all the time (much to my delight). And by golly, those solo recordings that Andrew Kenny made on that Home split a few years back might even upstage those by his EP-mate Ben Gibbard. Seeing as how the band members live in separate cities and saw their label, Tigerstyle, fold, it was likely that a new record wasn’t going to happen. But somehow, they regrouped, ended up on Broken Social Scene’s home, Arts&Crafts, and here we are, staring down the jewel case of a new AmAn set, titled Set Free.
The American Analog Set clearly have a chosen sound, one of quiet drones, hushed ballads, whisper vocals and all around wonderfulness. And though that hasn’t changed on Set Free, the Texas group still manages to stretch their salt water taffy sound as far as it can go, ending up with limitless possibilities. Every song is as humbly joyous and memorable as on their previous records, destined for amorous mixtapes and quiet nights alone. Not that The American Analog Set can’t be a celebration. But they’re a quiet celebration.
From the drone of “Born on the Cusp,” the old familiar sound announces its presence: brushed drums, clean guitars and, this time, a little xylophone for color. “Cool Kids Keep” takes the record a step further into the rock direction, adding fuzzy organs to the otherwise subtle tones and mantra-like repeated verse of “the cool kids’ll keep together.” “Sharp Briar” has one of the coolest grooves on the record as a whole, xylophone adding a water-like quality to the hypnotic track. “The Green Green Grass,” though still sitting atop a brushed-drum cradle, is the closest to a true power-pop song here, and “First of Four” has a relaxed steadiness about it that will instantly set longtime fans at ease.
On quieter cuts, like “She’s Half,” the Austin group are at their most graceful, tugging at the heartstrings of those memorizing their shoes. It’s a delightfully beautiful and quiet ballad, though not much of AmAnSet’s output is “loud,” so to speak. There are interesting instrumentals as well, like “Immaculate Heart 2” and the latin-meets-dub jam of “(Theme From) Everything Ends.”
I’m quite pleased that The American Analog Set has returned to us with a new, exciting album containing a familiar sound. Maybe this album can make its way regular rotation at that café soon. As much as I love the classics, I’ve grown quite fond of Set Free rather quickly.
Yo La Tengo – And then nothing turned itself inside out
Pinback – Summer in Abaddon
Galaxie 500 – On Fire
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.