Go West

Don't mess with Texas: Austin-based dreamers American Analog Set

The Texas of fable is as fleeting as a desert spring. Glass- and metal-skinned skyscrapers have replaced towering buttes. Power generators drown out the trail-weary cowboy. Rutted roads have given way to multilevel freeways as nearly 21 million folk have been herded across the state's dusty plains (says the 2000 census). All this has made Texas the second-most populated state in the nation.

American Analog Set were reared in boom-blighted Dallas-Fort Worth before skipping town for the progressive tech hub of Austin. Yet on past outings, as well as their latest, Know by Heart (Tiger Style), the band keeps the myth of the uncharted American West alive by creating expansive, Farfisa-flavored soundscapes to fill the otherwise dreary landscape of people and pavement, blips and bytes.

As popular music and culture seem to be moving farther, faster, and harder, this band pull in the reins to savor stunning vistas, drowsy mahogany sunsets and burnt, wind-swept plains. Listen and you'll forget that there's a parking lot where there once was a pasture. American Analog Set's sweeping hush offers escape. This is music for the lonesome crowded West.

Spangled Americana aside--with its affected twang, the No Depression gang simply takes its cues from Gene Autry--this band is the real deal: introverted rough riders whose music seems to rise and fall like a mechanical bull. American Analog Set lassoes vintage organs and simple acoustic chords, wrapping their breezy vocals in studio gauze.

Comparisons are often drawn between this outfit, Stereolab, and Spiritualized. And while all three share a similar, fluid approach, the latter two lack the earthy mood of their distant Texas kin. Spiritualized invite you to float with them through outer space whereas American Analog Set would rather project its sounds from their living room into yours. Perhaps American Analog Set is a closer relative to Modesto, California's Grandaddy, who've assembled rootsy, panoramic pop from cast-off technology, dated computers, duct-taped keyboards, and shattered guitars. Through similar rough-hewn techniques, both acts conjure up broken-down computer blues.

Consistent with Austin's and Dallas's tech-sector bust, Know by Heart lobs a few bombs at the electronic realm. "We're Computerizing and We Just Don't Need You Anymore" suggests an auto-piloted trip that has been pulled back into human hands. While there's a detectable hum in the background and a hint of a loopy riff, the band is merely playing with listeners. Each guitar strum is distinguishable and the sleepy vox recall a back-porch lullaby.

While these demure Texans simplify and stretch out boundless musical spaces in their hyperkinetic urban setting, they hint at a rabble-rousing reaction to their environment. The lead track "Punk as Fuck" indicates Slipknot-style aggression, but the title is misleading. Instead, we're treated to a choo-choo-chugging pop number, with singer Andrew Kenny swearing that he's "on your side."

Content to delight in life's simple pleasures, American Analog Set takes its cues from the mundane. "The Postman" frames the lowly civil servant as a kind of romantic hero. Kenny urges us not to neglect the guy who delivers the phone bill: "I walk your streets for hours like some kind of jerk/When you leave for work I think you're turning to flirt/But you're turning away and it always hurts." "The Kindness of Strangers" is an ambling folk tale that speaks to common courtesy.

As empathy-stirring--if a tad more bashful--are the tender spots found on Know by Heart. So sweet and unadorned are "Aaron and Maria," the title track, and the instrumental "Slow Company," you become completely lost in swoon when trying to dissect their bashful plinking and plunking.

Consider it a step toward establishing a New Frontier. Hell, in her ten-gallon lid and bejeweled belt buckle, even Madonna is searching for unspoiled ground to cover. As the clogged New Economy collapses and the green world turns brown, we need space--lots of space--with starry skies to roam. Take Heart.

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