Thursday, August 9, 2012

The American Analog Set - Know By Heart

Release Date: September 4, 2001

Punk as Fuck
The Postman
Choir Vandals
Kindness of Strangers
Aaron and Maria

You’re on a road trip with your pals. You’ve been on the road now for a few hours and the sun’s going down. The conversation has hit a lull and you begin to retreat into your head. The highways start to turn into monotony, and you begin to focus on the endless white lines and reflectors as you reflect on your life. This is when you pop in Know By Heart by The American Analog Set. The percussion beats on softly with little separation in timing between songs, allowing your concentration to remain steadfast as you continue to stare out your window. Acoustic guitars and keyboards litter the landscape. The occasional xylophone twinkles over the atmosphere as the stars begin to shine. A person with a lesser attention span might find this all a bit dull; they might never know how great soft, nonindulgent pop can be. As a friend might do to keep the entire group entertained, singer Andrew Kenny interrupts the long bouts of silence with intermittent, whispered vocals. “I’m on your side,” he begins on the ironically titled “Punk as Fuck,” mimicking the quiet camaraderie you feel with your friends. “Keep me like a key I’m the only one” he pleads on “The Only One.” On “Like Foxes Through Fences” and “Slow Company” though, he refrains from adding any vocals at all, allowing the instrumentation to work its way into you. And it will.

Now that you’re completely tuned, you notice there isn’t much separation in sound throughout Know By Heart. It’s intentional. Until the halfway mark at “Million Young”, a song driven by distorted guitar and organ, The American Analog Set envelop you with soft dream-like pop. And these are the record’s highlights. Ben Gibbard supplies vocals on “The Postman,” and sounds completely in his element. The slow moving “Choir Vandals” never breaks rhythm, lulling you into a stupor. “Punk as Fuck” and “The Kindness of Strangers” feature incredibly unique xylophone accents. And then there’s excellently Brooklyn-inspired “Aaron & Maria,” which sounds like something Wilco might have written circa Yankee Foxtrot. Know By Heart rode under the radar when it was first released in early September of 2001 (just a week before 9/11 might have had a lot to do with that), and while The American Analog Set is outstanding, in the ADD-riddled information age I can see why they never gained mass appeal. And while now Know By Heart is a little known piece of brilliant, introspective pop, it will undoubtedly continue to pick up stragglers down the road.