Music Mix

American Analog Set is a little o' this, a little o' that.

Talking about music is hard. Writing about it is even harder sometimes, because how do you put the intangible into words? How do you describe the way a band puts certain notes and tempos together to create unique soundscapes?

If you're a music journalist, you might use other bands that have somewhat similar techniques to create a description by association. For example, Austin's American Analog Set has been compared to bands like Stereolab, Low and Tortoise. Or, you can take those comparisons and explain why they are or are not valid.

"If you're trying to get people that you think like more widely-appreciated bands to like a band that isn't, maybe a comparison is a good idea, but on the other hand it can be a little lazy to not look for what's unique about a band and just say, maybe, 'Stereolab put through the copier a few times so it kinda degrades, and that's what it sounds like,'" said guitarist and vocalist Andrew Kenny.

"We're the least post-rock band that I know," said Kenny. "We're all about not jamming, and having things set out, and writing songs from front to end and not having any solos or anything like that, and I kind of associate all that stuff with Tortoise. I'd hate for someone to read that, having never heard us, and then say, 'Ah, they're just like Tortoise, when really I think it's selling us short and it's also kind of insulting to Tortoise,' because they're good."

But American Analog Set is good, too. With its new album on Tiger Style, American Analog Set has stripped down its sound a bit, leaving more space for the songs themselves.

"If you haven't heard a lot of our older records it won't be immediately obvious what's different," explained Kenny. "It's all kind of mellow rock, I guess, but the new record is a lot less spacey. I know the songs are a lot shorter, a lot less repetitive, even though it still is really repetitive, because that's what we do. It's a lot cleaner sounding. It's a lot less affected. It's an older-sounding record; it doesn't sound as much like a bunch of kids that just learned how to play instruments just making records in their bedroom. It sounds more like those same kids after they got out of college making the same music, but a little bit better."

American Analog Set began in 1995 in Fort Worth, when Kenny and his friends went looking for something to do together. "We liked being together a lot and we didn't really have a group activity; none of us are especially active, so I guess volleyball was out," said Kenny.

After playing a couple of shows in Fort Worth, the band relocated to Austin, where original keyboardist Lisa Roschmann, who left the band in 1999, and drummer Mark Smith were going to school. The Fun of Watching Fireworks was released on Emperor Jones/Trance Syndicate in 1996, and the band released three more albums on that label, including this year's Through the '90s: Singles and Beyond, before moving to Tiger Style. The current lineup includes Lee Gillespie on bass, Thomas Hoff on keyboards and Sean Ripple as the "fifth member," playing various percussion instruments and such.

Songs like "The Postman" and "The Kindness of Strangers" rely more on the vocals and the melody than previous American Analog Set mainstays like its first single, "Diana Slowburner II," off The Fun of Watching Fireworks, where the emphasis was on the Farfisa organ loop and the instrumentation. American Analog Set records all its records in Kenny's house, but don't expect to hear telephones ringing or cars driving by or static or any of the things that usually mark a home recording.

"The new record is the one that sounds the most polished to me, but at the same time the new record has the least studio help at all," said Kenny. "No compressors, no effects, the vocals are all totally dry, there's no reverb at all--maybe someone will sing with me or something like that, but there's no delay, or anything that should affect the music--but yet it still sounds pretty smooth to me. I was really happy with the way that turned out, without intentionally trying to make anything sound especially smushed.

"We're all pretty proud of the new record; we think it's the best one, and we're hoping we can turn some new people on to the band," said Kenny. "Not to mention, I think we're a lot better live than we've ever been before, so hopefully we'll be able to put on a good show."