The Golden Band
It's got a vintage organ sound, brushed drums, extended quiet passages, droning guitars and simple, repetitive song structures. Great, another indie pop band. But instead of being ho-hum, American Analog Set sticks out because it takes the elementary and common to uncommon levels. What can't be pinned down in describing American Analog Set's third album is the spirit behind the music. Mopey art-school boys and girls crank this kind of stuff out semester in, semester out, trying to imitate Stereolab and Galaxy 500. But this Fort Worth-based band has graduated from that cliché. The Golden Band sounds like its influences but drifts and wanders away from them, subtly exploring other options.
There is a whole subgroup of American indie rock that bases its aesthetic on performing quietly and slowly. Bands such as Low, Bedhead and Codeine have turned the volume down to invite listeners to get closer. Nuances are easier to discern when every sound is carefully placed and considered. To a certain extent, American Analog Set fits in that company. Songs move only a bit faster than heartbeats, and drummer Mark Smith never falls into rock conventions, playing too loud or too much. For the better part of the six-minute-plus "It's All About Us," the group stays so far below the red line that guitar-string scrapes and singer Andrew Kenny's breathing are audible. Sure, the drums come in just when it seems like the song should be over, but they don't trample on the buttery milieu. Combined with the omnipresent organ, they simply add texture. The song finishes as an instrumental, building tension as it slowly crescendos. Similarly the second track in the album's four-part centerpiece, "New Drifters," has vocals that are buried so deep in the keyboard miasma that only snippets are discernible, and a loping, circular guitar line offers only more confusion. There's no quick score with music like this; it takes a certain amount of patience and endurance to find the meat, but it's well worth it.
The quintet also embraces more ambient sounds, getting further away from structured songs, experimenting with sound and connecting songs with similar musical themes. The title track pulses on reverberating vibraphones and a muffled bass drum. It's not so much a song as a soundscape, drifting by almost unnoticed. The song acts as an extended introduction for the next track, the jazzy "I Must Soon Quit the Scene," in which the band goes a bit post-rock. Like something Tortoise would do, "Scene" offers hypnotic repetition and variation. A rippling vibes line plays off an odd-time signature and jazzy drums. Again, Kenny's vocals are hard to make out, but his quick cadence adds urgency to his thin voice. As the instrumentation fades below, a blast of keyboard echo rises into the stratosphere (the loudest sound on the record). The noise sounds like someone is messing around on the mixing desk, but given how carefully planned everything is here, it's more like an aftershock of the song, affecting even after the finish of the tune.
Like the persistent tone, American Analog Set has the ephemeral quality of great rock bands moments pass when they are greater than the sum of the sounds they make. Under the right circumstances, Golden Band is a bright moment of dense, cerebral indie pop. (David Simutis)
No Limit Top Dogg
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Now that Snoop Dogg (who says he shortened his name just to save time) has shown his loyalty to Master P and the whole No Limit alliance on his last album, 1998's uneven but likable Da Game Is to Be Sold, Not to Be Told, he officially has carte blanche to get buckwild on his future projects. On his latest hip-hop hoedown, No Limit Top Dogg, the Dogg enlists some of his old cronies to help him get his groove back, and it works.
Call this album a Death Row family reunion. Now that Suge Knight is getting his lockdown on (for now!), the rest of the Death Row crew can be seen and heard on each other's albums. Although Snoop's Dogg Pound crew of Kurupt and Dat Nigga Daz (now known as Daz Dillinger) is nowhere to be found, other inmates, including Jewell, Warren G and Nate Dogg, are here. More especially, Dr. Dre is also along for the ride. Master reunites with pupil, producing three songs that connect and secure the album's gangsta-funk flow.
Other producers also get in on the action. DJ Quik provides some sturdy G funk beats with "Doin' Too Much" and "Don't Tell." Ant Banks samples Brick's "Dazz" to humorously plant Snoop in his own fairy tale on "Snoopafella." Tony! Toni! Tone! front man Raphael Saadiq lays down some dreamy R&B grooves on "Somethin' Bout Yo Bidness." And since this is still a No Limit production, a few requirements are needed for this album to hit the streets: Beats By The Pound's KLC has to produce a couple good tracks. The usual suspects of No Limit talent (e.g., Silkk The Shocker, Mystikal, Mia X) have to make guest appearances. And obligatory gangsta life songs have to take prominence. On Top Dogg, there's the song about falling in love with a thug (which just so happens to be called "In Love with a Thug") and the one about loving your momma (which just so happens to be called "I Love My Momma").
In his own smooth-talking, pimp-walking way, Snoop Dogg is using No Limit Top Dogg to bring his two rap families together to weave a genuinely funky album. He's like that kid in Soul Food who brings the family back together after Big Momma dies. Only lankier. What Snoop is probably trying to say with this album is can't we just all get along... and rap about bitches, blunts and bustin' caps in brothas' asses. (Craig D. Lindsey)