Jukebox Breakdown: The American Analog Set – “Continuous Hit Music”
by Chad Jewett
In the liner notes for the 2014 reissue of their self-titled LP, atmospheric emo greats American Football cited Steve Reich’s essential, minimalistic breakthrough Music for 18 Musicians as a key model for the band’s winding, major-key aesthetic. Broken up into fourteen sections that largely cycle around a spare set of notes (sometimes just a single, slight chord) Music for 18 Musicians is the kind of record whose influence has spread out, delta-like, into the very heart of contemporary indie music. You can hear the composition’s patient, textured chatter in Yo La Tengo, or Dntel, or Aloha, and most especially, in the whittled, crisp mood-music of The American Analog Set. Placed at the beginning of 2003’s classic Promise Of Love, “Continuous Hit Music” might just be the signature example of how the carefully-appointed minimalism of Reich and Philip Glass has shaped the artier corners of pop music.
Built from a ticking watch of a drum part (bass, snare, and hi-hat) and a fizzy, circling organ that wobbles and bends like a fraying tape loop, “Continuous Hit Music” takes its time slowly adding its grace notes. It’s almost a full minute before you notice the similarly spare guitar and bass parts that slide to-and-fro in the song’s margins, a full two minutes and eleven seconds before the song blossoms just a bit more, boosting that organ, gently pushing that guitar part just a little closer to center stage. The song, which burbles gorgeously for another minute, finally hits 3:16 when Andrew Kenny’s sighing, reedy tenor arrives. But the song uses Kenny’s voice, which alights gracefully atop the spinning organ and tick-tock groove, as another instrument, a new harmony atop a streamlined collection of sounds that begin to converge like a set of photographs, all developing one atop the other in slow-focus.
Appropriately enough for a song that takes pains to make a piece of art far grander than the sum of its parts, Kenny’s verse is just a few brief words, delivered in a near-whisper. Around his voice, the song keeps going and going, earning a winking title like “Continuous Hit Music” – the chirping symphony of tag-sale instruments looping on like a perpetual motion machine. At times the song becomes the aural equivalent of the landscapes that flash by as you ride in a car set to cruise-control. The American Analog Set made a career out of these kinds of unassuming, hypnotic moments of splendor. “Continuous Hit Music” just happens to be their tour de force.