By Aaron Stein
Sometimes the most interesting place is not on one side or the other, but right on the border between the two - right on the verge. That is where the American Analog Set exists – not just on the verge of rock and roll, not on the verge of being songs, not just on the verge of being music at all, but on the verge of audible. In listening to their newest release Set Free, I am struck by the intensity the band can create when I must strain so just to hear it. Ah, the joys in nuance.
The first track on the album is appropriately titled “Born On the Cusp” and is a gentle sway of vibraphones, guitars, and whispering brushed snare drums all waxing and waning behind a simple, steady bassline. The song goes absolutely nowhere but draws the listener in quickly and deeply, forcing him to investigate this cusp, to get hypnotized and eventually lost in its simplicity. Tracks two & three – “Immaculate Heart Parts I & II” - pull you in even further with their nothingness; they are true minimalist masterpieces. The tone is constant throughout, with an occasional increase in volume and electricity and the eventual ebb back close to zero. The American Analog Set seem to work to see what minimum amount of sound they can produce while creating something not just interesting, but also absolutely beautiful. There is no doubt that this is musical beauty in strumming bass and guitars and that sweet, soft, cycling drum.
With so little there, the album does occasionally run the risk of becoming boring. Indeed, the album pays out as much as you put into it, and without your undivided attention, can quickly lose whatever subdivision you’ve offered it. In that regard, it might work better on a track-to-track basis, shuffled between more easily-gratifying works of higher octane genres. Set Free will set you free from preconceptions and the usual fare. It will teach you about just what is necessary to make music and a song and to make them good. The patient ear will be set free from the quick fix and in time might have worlds opened up to it.
I first heard the American Analog Set lilting across the park at the Austin City Limits Festival last summer. It was a sweltering early Sunday afternoon, and as I fought to find some shade and to conserve my energy, something magical filled my ears. It was barely a whisper above the quiet rush of still air in my ears. It took me from the verge of being too hot to stand in one place to the verge of ecstasy. It was a revelation, and this album (their first made in an honest-to-goodness studio setting) perfectly captures that emotion. I highly recommend it.
The boundary between the sand of the beach and the waters of the ocean is a dynamic line, constantly changing; it separates dry land from thousands of miles of water. This is the verge, the cusp where the American Analog Set operates.
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