Know by Heart (Barsuk)
Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., Sept. 19, 2014
The American Analog SetKnow by Heart (Barsuk)
In its heyday, 1995-2005, Austin's American Analog Set provided a necessary counterweight to the spiritual inertia of louder, faster cousins. "Punk as Fuck," the anthemic lead track from 2001's Know by Heart, can be read still as subtle commentary on this relationship. Why saddle such a warm, tuneful exercise in handcrafted lo-fi pop with such a self-sabotaging title? To draw attention to the diminishing returns of lockstep bluster for its own sake. Heard with hindsight, AAS's fourth LP, reissued on sonically resplendent 180-gram vinyl and accompanied by a download cache of 21 previously unreleased outtakes, also serves as a portent of their sound's impending viability. It's easy to imagine this album finding a much bigger audience had it been released a decade later. The Dallas-born/Austin-bred collective strikes a harmonic balance between headphone friendliness and hooks, and headmaster Andrew Kenny's songwriting remains extra-sharp. Not a note feels out of place. The built-in vulnerability of Kenny's soft, reserved vocals is mirrored by Mark Smith's tasteful snare brushes. Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard takes a guest vocal turn on "The Postman," a wistful chronicle of post-carousal wooze delivered through the prism of quotidian morning rounds, while "Aaron and Maria" unfurls quasi-romantic balladry about renegade trust fund kids. By contrast, half-melted keyboard atmospherics driving "Million Young" pack pensive, barely restrained urgency. Know by Heart culminates with "We're Computerizing and We Just Don't Need You Anymore," a sprawling, slow-core epic replete with vibes and static hiss. Intimate while avoiding the eddies of forced profundity, this shining moment hasn't lost its luster.