I first heard American Analog Set on an obscure XM radio station that played lesser known bands. At first listen, nothing particularly stood out to me about the track except for the calming feeling and the tightly arranged music, reminiscent of Pinback (The song was Immaculate Heart I).
But although I initially wasn't blown away, I wrote the band name down, and proceeded to check out some of their other stuff in the next few days. What I had expected was music in a similar vein - calming music, suitable for studying and reading, but not necessarily worthy on its own.
The first track that I listened to was actually not on this album, but a track from "Promise of Love" (Released 2003) entitled 'Hard to Find'. Within a few seconds of listening to this song, I was hooked completely. The electronica-esque keyboard, the tight rhythms, coupled with the lo-fi approach culminating in the singing was completely addictive - the type of song that forces its way into your head and reappears almost obsessively over the next few weeks. For those who need comparisons, the song sounds very much like Pinback, except that instead of emphasizing the vocals and harmony, the focus is very much on the music itself, a la 'The Album Leaf'.
But it's true that this track, although exceptional, is not on this particular album. Rather, it served to ignite my interest in the band - I had found one of those rarities - low-fi, non intense music that nevertheless is extremely musically interesting, even catchy.
This interest led me to their most acclaimed album, 'Know By Heart'. Although not containing any instantly outstanding tracks (ie, singles), this album is perhaps more valuable - it remains consistently good and cohesive throughout the tracklist. Tracks seem to naturally flow into each other without becoming excessively repetitive, often varying in intensity throughout. The album opens up with the mellow 'Punk as F***', interestingly using loose brush drum strokes over the otherwise tightly controlled music. The next track, 'The Only One' provides a contrast, with repetitive staccato rhythms and singing. But instead of using this energy to build up to a spectacular climax, The American Analog set shows considerable restraint, instead climaxing into - silence. This is perfectly representative of their music as a whole, which although musically exciting and interesting, is nevertheless intended to make a musical statement rather than to entertain or pump up.
Tracks throughout the rest of the album alternate between the soft-indie ballad type of 'Punk as F***', and the more edgy low-fi sound of 'The Only One'. Each of these types are outstandingly done and well woven together, including the title track 'Know By Heart', and 'Million Young', respectively.
This album is obviously well crafted, and was thoguht of as a complete set peice, rather than individual songs. This may lead some to complain that the album sounds too similar, perhaps even monotone, based on the lead singer's lack of particular inflection. But The American Analog set isn't necessarily trying to show their versatility, but their skill in creating and forming a complete mood - which they do admirably throughout the album.
The only criticism remaining, then, is that the album is about two tracks too long - the mood is extended too far. Although the energy remains throughout the mellow middle part of the album (and by energy, I don't mean fist pumping anthems, but a sense of musical flow), by the last track, this is starting to fade. The last instrumental 'We're Computerizing' is a skillful peice, but it ends the album on too much of a melancholic note, lacking some of the tightness that the rest of the album has.
I highly recommend this album for those who are interested in the concept of cohesive albums - where the sum is much more than the individual parts. This album, although not a highly touted masterpeice, nevertheless remains one of the best of the low-fi genre. Will you blast this in your car? Show it to all your friends? Not necessarily. But will it maintain a dominant position in your playlist? Definitely.