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American Analog Set - Set Free

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Artist: American Analog Set

Album: Set Free

Label: Arts & Crafts

Review date: Nov. 9, 2005

A perceptive observer would probably guess from the cover photo – a half-open set of handcuffs – and the title, Set Free, that the American Analog Set’s sixth album is a break-up album. (A literal-minded observer may say it’s a prison break album, but my guess is that the title is metaphorical.) That same observer would then expect one of two things: either a joyously spiteful ode to a particularly loathsome ex, or a mope-filled contemplation of the sadness of this kind of “freedom.”

Set Free is neither; indeed, I’m not even sure that it’s a break-up album, although it sounds like they devoted at least two songs to that topic. “Play Hurt” directs its second-person address to an ex-lover, and while Andrew Kenny’s lyrics are fairly innocuous – “You can only play hurt so much, when you’re calling me all about him and I can’t hang up” – the plodding bass and drums suggest that he’s struggling to hold in some more choice words (although he does lead in to the bridge with “I don’t love you”). “The Green Green Grass” tries to cut to the quick, but the overall mood is still, and oddly, helpful. “Maybe you want him like you want me, only truly” Kenny suggests, “and I’ll make it easy: either you want him or you want me.” For a band that’s always played a particularly careful brand of indie rock, even the break-up albums are tactful.

Set Free was, according to the liner notes, the first American Analog Set album recorded in a studio, and it’s pretty easy to hear the difference from their earlier albums. While their early albums and EPs were more complex, revolving around long instrumental passages and often beginning or ending in a wash of drones, the professional recording of Set Free displays the connection between those albums and their later pop-oriented work. “Born on the Cusp,” the first song on the album, runs a scant three-and-a-half minutes but ends on an extended, post-rock appropriate instrumental passage. “Fuck This….I’m Leaving” ends the album in a similar fashion. So while it sounded on 2003’s Promise of Love that the American Analog Set were turning themselves into a shoegaze-revival band, Set Free sounds more in line with the gentle atmospheric rock on their finest album, 1999’s The Golden Band. (They even pull out a Golden Band-era trick by naming consecutive songs “Immaculate Heart 1” and “Immaculate Heart 2.”)

Rumors that the American Analog Set had decided to disband hit the Web shortly after the release of Set Free; and while it appears that those rumors were premature, Andrew Kenny did acknowledge that “we’ve all got other projects that we’d like to concentrate on for a while.” It’s a little sad to see America’s leading purveyors of careful and tactful indie rock take a break, but at least they’ve left us Set Free in the meantime. It’s an album where they are, unmistakably, themselves.

By Tom Zimpleman

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