American Analog Set – Know By Heart

American Analog Set
Know By Heart

In what would be a painful admittance for anyone hoping to have any sort of ‘indie street cred’ on the webzine scene, I must acknowledge the fact that while I’ve heard the name American Analog Set before, Know By Heart was my first ever exposure to any of the band’s material. Shocking, I know, but lately the extent of my musical boundaries has been opening an envelope of promotional materials from DOA approximately every month (and for that, I have my pathetic excuse for an advertising salary to blame).

So, I sat myself down one night with a cold can of Milwaukee’s Best Light and started listening. All truths be told, I wasn’t all that impressed with Know By Heart’s opening track, “Punk as Fuck,” which, to me, just sounded like a low-rent, stripped-down and slightly more cheery Stephan Malkmus-meets-Lou Barlow piece. For reasons that I still haven’t deciphered yet, this frustrated me enough to get another beer … And another, and another, and another, and so on, until eventually I was in no shape to be reviewing anything. Thus, I did what any good reviewer would do in a time of crisis and deadlines – I went and took a nap.

Of course, three or four hours later, I woke up with a headache. Muttering proclamations of my stupidity the whole way, I headed to the medicine cabinet for some aspirin before dutifully heading back to my computer for review. There, on the American Analog Set CD case was a yellow post-it note with “NOT TRACK ONE!!!” scribbled on it. Of course, I recognized the handwriting as my own, and I trusted that I must’ve had a pretty good reason for warning myself about that. I skipped straight ahead to track two, “The Only One,” and I was COMPLETELY floored. Quiet, jangly guitars, muted bass, laid-back drumming, and hushed multi-track vocals turn this stop-and-go rhythm into a swirling listen. From that point on, I was hooked, as the rest of the record takes the musical ball from “The Only One” and runs with it in just enough directions to make things really interesting.

“Like Foxes Through Fences” is a very playful, yet quietly driving instrumental, while picture-perfect I-just-don’t-care-anymore-indie-rock-anthem “The Postman” carries an amazing musical swagger thanks to the almost bouncy rhythm guitars and lulling vocals on the chorus. The backing track of “Choir Vandals” is eerily somber, with the brush-drums and soft keyboard sounds providing a perfectly soft bed for the craning rhythm guitar and it’s intertwining bassline. “Gone to Earth” takes laid-back elements from each of the previous tracks to form a nifty groove, then adds to it with a xylophone part that compliments the keyboards. The vocals on this track are so softly delivered that they come off more along the lines of the keyboard and xylophone pieces here, rather than just lyrics.

“Million Young” is Know By Heart’s standout moment, as the keyboards are turned up, the drums stand out a bit more, and the bassline suddenly becomes super-prominent. After about 40 seconds, things get really ‘dirty’ (well, for this band, anyways), as the jangly, dirty 60’s sounding rhythm guitar sounds kick in behind the slightly more forceful vocals. The word for this one is ‘infectious.’ This track just screams ‘Nuggets Box Set,’ and it seriously wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the first Wellwater Conspiracy full-length, either. Repeated listens even brought forth comparisons of more mellow Goo-era Sonic Youth. “The Kindness of Strangers” picks up where the last track left off, featuring guitar/bass interweaving that stands out a bit more from the mix than the earlier tracks on the disc. The sing along chorus is augmented with a nice xylophone piece, and the backing keyboards are downright lush at times.

The album’s title track starts off with more of a folk lean to it, thanks to the reliance on the acoustic rhythm guitars to push the track. The guitars drop quickly, though, leaving the brush drums and vocals to carry the tune, along with a little pedal-steel sounding effect that drops in the mix every so often. Something about “Slow Company” made me imagine lying on a beach somewhere with beautiful scenery … Each roll of the guitar was like the sound of a wave passing by me, and the xylophone notes rang in my ears like the sounds of birds cawing as they glide high up in the air above the water. Between these ‘beach’ scenes, American Analog Set throws in a sort of demented gunslinger soundtrack that sounds like the backing music any good wild western villain would have had following him as he wrangled through another ghost town. My description sounds choppy, but the effect somehow works effortlessly.

“Aaron and Maria” is destined to become the indie-rock, Generation-Y answer to John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane,” with it’s declaration that, “Loving you is just enough / Because no one gives a fuck about us.” The sad part is that the track ends on a vocal harmony of “No one gives a fuck about us,” and it really sounds pretty. I love the concept of demented love songs written by jilted lovers for jaded lovers to consume – something about that image just makes me smile. Know By Heart winds down with the near six-minute “We’re Computerizing and We Just Don’t Need You Anymore,” which effortlessly glides along like a sole fluffy white cloud lazily cruising across a beautiful crisp blue sky on a warm summer’s afternoon. This is the type of music to play out on a secluded picnic for two – I guarantee this track will lead to an afternoon spent staring into the sky while smiling and laughing and talking about everything and nothing all at once.

In conclusion, I will say the following things about the American Analog Set’s Know By Heart. First off, it’s a beautifully quiet CD, so it works wonderfully to fall asleep to or to have on in the background while reading. Also, it’s a great CD to review when you’ve got a hangover. Second is that this disc is perfect to put on repeat during those wonderfully long talks with a close friend or significant other, because conversations like that just don’t happen enough and something about Know By Heart just screams ‘conversation breeder.’ Third, (and I feel this deserves to be re-stated) yes, upon further review, there is insufficient evidence to overturn the ruling on the field, as I still think the first track on the disc is useless. Now, the most important thing to know about Know By Heart is simple – It’s really damned good. The mix is good, the songs are catchy, the vocals are perfectly dreamy, and the music itself is an example of all that can be good in the world of low-volume indie rock. Good, good stuff here – recommended.