June 22, 2002

American Analog Set "Promise of Love"

The first time I heard American Analog Set was on a country road driving home to Dallas from Austin with Andy Young, the drummer from Lift to Experience. Andy popped in From Our Living Room to Yours, and my first thought was that the music didn’t seem to change at all. The first song sounded like the same riff repeated for ten minutes. What I had wrong was that I was trying to actively listen to American Analog Set. Andy set me straight, distracting me from the music with all kinds of pointless chatter. Twenty minutes later I got it. The music has to seep in while you’re not paying attention, and surreptitiously plant the seeds of its catchy melodies in your brain, only for them to sprout god knows how long after. Three days later I found myself humming the "bada ba ba ba, badaba ba" refrain from "Magnificent Seventies" and I couldn’t make it quit.

So it’s no surprise that Promise of Love, the latest from Austin's American Analog Set, opens with a drum beat and organ oscillation that doesn’t change chords until the vocals come in-a full three minutes and fifteen seconds later-on "Continuous Hit Music." The title of the opening track is appropriate. Couched in each of these Steve Reich-style droning compositions is a pop song that would top the charts if it were packaged in a more digestible way.

The principle behind music like American Analog Set is this: begin with one thing, change it just a little bit four measures later, change something else four measures later, and in several minutes you’ve got an entirely different song going on. But these guys will sometimes take sixteen measures or longer to effect any one change. Listening to their music teaches your ear patience. Once it’s learned, the songs unfold like one of those silly Buddhist proverbs. Then you know each one of the changes, how perfect it is and how it had to wait that long to happen.

All of that said, Promise of Love is more varied from song to song than most other American Analog Set releases. "Hard to Find" sounds like it could be in a spy movie soundtrack, and the beat is hard not to move to. "Come Home Baby Julie, Come Home" competes with "Fool Around" for catchiest track on the record: both sound like they might be sixties pop songs, except of course for that repetitious droning that it wouldn’t be American Analog Set without. "You Own Me" gets slow and spacey, with a lot of delay and distortion on the guitar and dreamy vocals. On "Modern Drummer"-is this song title intended to be ironic?-the only percussion is a closed hi-hat every eighth note, and whenever the vocals stop their void is filled with real pretty cello swells.

This is one of American Analog Set’s best releases to date, but don’t expect to be immediately overwhelmed by how wonderful it is. That’s not American Analog Set's way. Go ahead and put it in your CD player on repeat and immediately start ignoring it. Give it some time to soak in. After an hour you’ll love it.

--Jeremy Yocum

No comments: