Austin's American Analog Set are masters of old-fashioned tape loops; their songs are often simple beats with even simpler melody lines and harmonizing vocals spliced together seamlessly. They manage to create electronic-esque moods through conventional instruments and, ahem, analog techniques, proving that one doesn't necessarily need fancy bells and whistles to make records sound good, as long as one knows what one is doing--which AmAnSet's Andrew Kenny does. Most of Promise of Love, AmAnSet's fifth album, was recorded in Kenny's New York City apartment (he's in grad school at Columbia), with the other members of the band adding their personal touches later.
As good as Promise of Love sounds, the splicing of songs into a whole album is less seamless this time around, conceptually speaking. Promise of Love feels more stretched out than American Analog Set's last full-length, 2001's Know By Heart, even though it's a full four songs shorter. The record cover is a postcard, return address AmAnSet, Austin, Texas; it's as if the thousands of miles between Texas and New York are forcing themselves between songs, the time lapse between mail correspondence inherent.
As is often the case when a band releases a follow-up to their best record, Promise of Love has more songs that stand on their own but fails to come together as a thoroughly conceived record; most of the songs are just bigger and better than anything American Analog Set has done before, and so they have sharper edges.
Know By Heart's strength is American Analog Set's cohesion as a band; the songs were more melody- and lyric-driven, and you could actually hear and understand Kenny's soft vocals. Promise of Love's strength lies in Kenny's cohesion as a songwriter; the songs are more rhythmic, and--although Kenny has added more blurring vocal effects--are still powered by cleanly overlapping melodies and brilliantly looped hooks.
The record begins with "Continuous Hit Music," a song whose title pretty well describes itself; the song keeps building on itself until it's impossible to attain a more perfect pop groove; there's nothing left for the song to do but end. American Analog Set usually uses guitar chords sparingly, letting the guitars, bass, drums, glockenspiel and Farfisa add up to a sum total that complicates the songs enough to give them the kind of texture you can hear melting together.
On Promise of Love, though, there are more chords on top of all the other melody lines, which makes the record feel a little more punk rock. AmAnSet sounds better when they pull out all the stops, and Promise of Love has few quiet moments--the title track and "Fool Around" are loud, fast and angry. "I know you get so drunk that you can't tell, or maybe you're just too young and you can't tell," sings Kenny on the title track, and more than one song talks about a girl named Julie; maybe what's giving Promise of Love its edges is the feeling of love gone wrong. Know By Heart basked in the blinding pink glow of new love, and Promise of Love is a darker shade of red--harsher, louder, and all the better for it.