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The American Analog Set 

Promise of Love

Wednesday, Jul 2 2003
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After the American Analog Set's last album two years ago, singer and principal songwriter Andrew Kenny headed to Columbia University to study biochemistry. Between labs, the budding Ph.D. traveled to the band's Austin base to record Promise of Love. And fittingly, this record offers a listening experience that suggests a scientist harvesting petri-dish specimens -- it's highly precise, gracefully slow, and often rather dull to witness.

The album's catalyst, "Continuous Hit Music," sprouts with a woozy organ and a steady, mindless thump. But gradually, deep guitars saunter in, meandering at first, then melodic. Finally, a torturous three minutes later, the vocals break through like a pensive boys' choir, repeating the apt line "Continuous hit music."

Moments like this tension-deflating payoff make the American Analog Set worth listening to, but the band's style is as minimal as a stark white lab coat, complete with skeletal instrumentation and long wordless stretches. At times, Promise of Love is hypnotic, with gently brushed drums, whispery maracas, and assorted bubbles of organ sounds. More often, it's just plain uninteresting.

The AmAnSet's last album, 2001's Know by Heart, saw the ambient-pop band toying with new tempos -- often just one notch over plodding, or even gently galloping -- but the welcome change mostly disappears on this effort. Here, variation is offered only in brief moments. On "Modern Drummer," it's a spooky, unexpected cello that flirts with the delicate, chimey melody, while on "Come Home Baby Julie, Come Home," slight cracks in Kenny's voice add weight to rather mundane lyrics: "Please, baby Julie come home/ It'll be like before you were gone/ Like when we were holding/ Our hands only."

Next to Know by Heart, this record's unimaginative lyrics are perhaps the most disappointing feature. "Hard to Find" offers mere remnants of verse-chorus structure, with just six lines of vocals like, "You stay hard to find cause it's too hard to take it/ And you keep it in mind that we're older and jaded."

The formula Kenny concocts on Promise of Love is a rather boring step backward in the AmAnSet's history. One can only hope that future experiments yield more promising results.

About The Author

Nancy Einhart

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