The American Analog Set seemed on the verge of a commercial breakthrough back in 2001, after the creative triumph of its album Know By Heart, but a combination of the depressed indie-rock market and the laxness of the 2003 follow-up Promise Of Love kept the band from blasting out of cultville. Now it's taking another shot. Signed to the respectable Canadian indie label Arts & Crafts, and back with an album more in the vein of Know By Heart, American Analog Set has a good chance to win new converts to its muted, low-hum-at-midnight sound.
As for existing fans, they'll either be happy to hear another assured rehash of the band's classic sound, or disappointed that it's just a rehash. A lot of Set Free resembles "Immaculate Heart 1," a classic example of an American Analog Set song, right down to the numeral. "Immaculate Heart 1" also has the requisite softly chugging rhythms, vibes, and snaky bass, plus an Andrew Kenny vocal that sounds like the whispery voice of a guardian angel, offering a reassurance not shared by the more ominous, instrumental "Immaculate Heart 2." The stark atmosphere pervades through "The Green Green Grass" and "First Of Four," with their low, skipping guitars and dreamy voices, and "Play Hurt," a slow, druggy trip that encapsulates AmAnSet's whole mood-altering aesthetic in four and a half minutes.
Aside from the murmuring acoustic ballad "She's Half," American Analog Set doesn't tinker with the formula much on Set Free. Considered as a piece, the record's 12 songs emphasize petty torments and dreams of escape, culminating in the closing track, "Fuck This… I'm Leaving." Sometimes that escape is engendered by the band, which shatters the stillness with "Cool Kids Keep"'s tribal beat and incantatory, ambiguous refrain, "The cooler kids will keep together." The song raises junior-high status-seeking to the level of life-defining metaphor, as the music below struggles to reconcile a toe-tapping melody with nerve-jangling electronic buzz.