By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Them indie-rockers are a tortured lot--torn between two worlds, weary of rock and roll but unable to exist without it. They see these rock and roll instruments strapped over the shoulders, these drum kits standing in front of them, and these amplifiers and cords at their feet, and they're baffled by what to do with them. They love pop and rock but are somewhat above it all, and so where a previous generation of would-be musicians bashed away at their instruments, banging and beating out a punk rock sound, the lo-fi indie-rocker opts for a more mellow tone. They're laid-back, laconic, sad, moody, sloppy--amateurs out to make a professional sound without selling out.
American Analog Set (two members of which are from Austin, two of which hail from Arlington) are those indie-rockers and then some, no doubt Bedhead devotees who swap out the three-guitar textures for flute (which never sounds good on album, whether it's Jethro Tull or Eric Dolphy) and organ and acoustic-electric gee-tars. Whether they're part of the burgeoning "space-rock" scene (see: Denton's Mazinga Phazer, Comet, MK Ultra, and so forth) or merely folk-rockers who like to experiment with ancient technology makes no difference; theirs is a sound becoming more and more prevalent in an increasingly inbred subculture that uses irony to fill in the blanks and distance to get past the embarrassment of revelation and emotion.
It's effective and affecting to a point, sad atmosphere resonating through fuzzy keyboards and droning guitars, lyrics mumbled underneath the breath like someone too ashamed to tell the truth. A song like "Trespassers in the Stereo Field" sprints by like a kid running on a floor slick with grease, going nowhere quickly and desperately. But that's its point, of course, evoking a mood instead of just "music." It doesn't go anywhere because it has no place to go. And when the words are heard, when it coalesces into a song for the brief moments when the band sticks with "convention," they're so ironic they almost seem like a joke: "You know I'm able to be excited" are the opening words to the somnaumbulent "It's Alright," spoken by a man who seems barely alive.
The difference, though, between a band like Bedhead and American Analog Set is this: Bedhead is a great rock and roll band and then some--rock and roll because they communicate a simple power that breaks the skin so it can break the heart, then some because they manage to do so quietly before they ever do so loudly. American Analog Set is merely a good band because their music never transcends its sound; like the folk-rock music it so often imitates with the acoustic guitars and pretty male-female harmonies and whispered-sung words, American Analog's blows glance off the first and last time you hear them. It's rock, but it doesn't want to be; it's folk, and it doesn't know it.