“Punk as Fuck” is American Analog Set’s definitive song and not just because it’s their most popular. The opener of 2001’s Know by Heart doesn’t hit all that different than “A Good Friend is Always Around,” “Come Home Baby Julie, Come Home,” “Dim Stars (The Boy in My Arms),” or any other song with a title that more accurately reflects the Austin band’s music. Their bashful take on slowpoke indie rock was initially seen as an extension of Yo La Tengo and Stereolab, and it was a formative influence on Ben Gibbard, who appeared on an AmAnSet track named “The Postman” two years before Give Up. Throughout their initial run straddling the turn of the 21st century, the Austinites stuck to one sound, and they had a sense of humor about the reputation it earned them.
The nice thing about having such a defined aesthetic is that any incremental adjustment can have a profound impact, like a cruise ship sailing half a degree off course. For Forever, the first American Analog Set album in 18 years, doesn’t really rock, but it’s not afraid to get in your face. The instruments are stripped of the cottony production of their Emperor Jones era, the synths completely devoid of retro kitsch. You’d figure that a song that shares its name with a Judas Priest classic would be For Forever’s “Punk as Fuck,” an ironic allusion to everything this band is not. But “Screaming for Vengeance” really is the most metal thing American Analog Set have ever made, if only because the mix is completely dominated by a bass riff that judders like a close-mic’d trampoline spring.
It’s all relative, but “the hardest American Analog Set album” still applies. As with many of his peers in the early aughts, Andrew Kenny’s lyrics had a mean streak masked by a librarian whisper. But as every sound on For Forever becomes more rigid and aggressive, Kenny takes on a snarl that highlights the nastier tone. While “Over the Jeans” and “By the Bridle” could be interpreted as obituaries for the indie rom-com era that American Analog Set helped soundtrack, “Screaming for Vengeance” has little room for interpretation. “It’s young love/You get fucked/You’re gonna bleed a lot,” he hisses.
Still, none of this comes off as urgent or bracing. For Forever is not the result of a pandemic-induced reckoning or an opportunity to capitalize on an unexpected flourishing of influence; a Numero Group reissue of the band’s first three albums isn’t set to arrive until 2024. Rather, it’s been described as the result of guys slowly remembering they liked hanging out together and years of surreptitious jamming awaiting a proper outlet.
And so For Forever moves at the same leisurely pace as classic American Analog Set, setting aside a sizable amount of time for songs with no particular sense of where they need to be. The lengthier “Camp Don’t Count” and “Long Limbs” recall times when this band was described as “krautrock,” because what else are you gonna call a song that repeats the same riff for six or seven minutes? Then again, even as the 12-and-a-half-minute title track makes good on its name, it doesn’t aspire for a state of mesmerism or try to pack in as many ideas as possible. Once they hit on a mantra of “back and forth and forever dear,” they just knew they were going to stretch things out. Familiarity is still the primary appeal of For Forever: the melodies soothe rather than rouse, most songs start and end at the same volume, and the clever double entendres satisfy even if the meaning remains somewhat elusive. It aligns with the real, if somewhat reductive, nostalgia not just for American Analog Set, but for a time when indie rock bands were beloved for not seeming so eager to be noticed.