January 22, 2002

American Analog Set "Through The Nineties: Singles and Unreleased"

For decades, fans of the supernatural and mysterious, unexplained occurrences have talked about a small town in west Texas by the name of Marfa. These people believe that, every night, mysterious lights appear on the grounds just outside of town. These lights flicker and come and go without rhyme, reason, or explanation. Some say the occurrence may be otherworldly, others suggest that its "swamp gas," but those who have ever tried, or cared enough to try, to fully explain this occurrence note that these lights appear in pairs of two, and come from the general direction of Highway 90.

I have been to Marfa, and this occurrence seemed to contain about as much mystery as whether or not the light stays on or off in the refrigerator once the door is closed. The group I was with at the time dragged me along to see these lights...driving three hours to nowhere, sitting in the middle of nowhere for an hour, and then another three hours back. A wasted experience for me; an intro to a record review for you.

For the past decade, fans of quiet, psychedelic music have talked about a small band from central Texas by the name of the American Analog Set. Those who have seen this band report hearing a hazy, mellow drone that makes them feel rather euphoric, calm, and utterly mellow. While I have never actually seen this talked-about band, I have heard them on record.

Through The 90s: Singles and Unreleased is a simple record, really. Title says it all, doesn't it? After all, compilation albums are really simple in nature, aren't they? The nice thing about compilation albums is that they create a sense of context for both the band and their music. You can really sense the growth of a band by its past, and nothing embodies it more than the odds and sods compilation. Placing together songs that were originally designed to never be placed with other songs can, and often does, work wonders.

Take, for instance, "High Fidelity vs. Guy Fidelity." This song originally appeared as the B-side to their debut single, "Diana Slowburner ii" Lovely in its own right, but by itself it doesn't make much of an impression. When put into context of other songs, however, you realize that this track is a much louder affair than other American Analog Set songs. Of course, this little fact also highlights what also makes Through the 90s a good example of a high-quality singles comp: the liner notes. Each song's source is explained, as is a little bit of background and history of the band at the time. That way, you learn more about the band, while being entertained. Did you know that the three singles on here were part of a trilogy, with one single being on red vinyl, one on white vinyl, and one on blue vinyl? How American of those analog set kids to do something that clever!

What makes this set really special, however, are the numerous rare tracks. Eight of 'em. Three tracks, "On My Way," "Where Did You Come From (Reprise)" and "Thin Fingers" were to have been part of an EP; there's one track, "Don't Wake Me" that was a remix which was done by a friend of the band, which may (or may not have) been part of a split 12" remix series; and "living room incidental #2/the corduroy kid," which appeared on a Japanese split single with Adventures in Stereo.

Closing out this fine set of Texas space pop is documentation of an actual American Analog Set sighting. Taken from an unreleased 10", this live record (recorded in Chicago in October 1997) contains five songs, showing that this drone is more than a wonderful studio creation. It also gives this record another dimension, one that I can't fully explain, but I don't bother to question. Sometimes mysteries are simply to be enjoyed, and this phenomenon is, indeed, enjoyed. Through The 90s is a nice little collection from one of Texas' best underrated bands.

--Joseph Kyle

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