THE AMERICAN ANALOG SET
Arts & Crafts
MEREDITH BRAGG &
The Kora Records
It's difficult to craft music that's simultaneously serene and driving, but that's what the American Analog Set has been doing for a decade. And what it will probably continue to do, although this weekend's Black Cat show is billed as the band's final D.C. gig. Some of the Austin-based quartet's members have moved to New York or Chicago, and frontman Andrew Kenny is in graduate school, so maintaining a full-time band is impossible. But sequels to the Set's coolly propulsive new album, "Set Free," are likely.
Kenny's breathy vocals aside, the group the Set most resembles is Stereolab.
Both float loungey melodies over looping cadences that recall '70s German rock's "motorik" beat, and they favor bleeping, buzzing timbres that evoke pre-digital notions of what the future would sound like. This album varies the formula occasionally, notably for "She's Half," which is constructed mostly of acoustic guitar and wisps of multi-tracked vocals. More typical are "Born on the Cusp" and "The Green Green Grass," in which marimba, brushed drums and backward guitar push the gentle melodies to ascend and accelerate -- but not all the way to escape velocity. That's the fundamental tension in the Set's style: It never quite sets itself free.
The packaging of Meredith Bragg & the Terminals' "Vol. 1" apes a 19th-century book, with old-fashioned typesetting and obsolete spellings.
Yet this pretty album isn't some faux-antiquarian project. The singer-guitarist and two of the Terminals used to play in Speedwell, a local indie rock group, and Bragg's debut solo set is more chamber-rock than old-timey folk. Although vibraphone and cello replace electronic keyboards and electric bass, such tunes as "Work and Winter" and "Carolina" are just a few twists away from power-pop. His melodies don't seem archaic, but the best of them do sound timeless.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Tuesday at the Black Cat with Chris Brokaw.