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The Wooden Birds
The American Analog Set toed the line between sleepy and dreamy so closely that it was easy to take the group for granted. When the band worked at its peak, it operated in a sort of twilight haze, and the ease with which one got lost in its beauty played a large part in determining what one got out of it. Factor in their more or less lasting hiatus (recent SXSW reunion aside), and the American Analog Set legacy hangs in a sort of hazy purgatory. Did the band exist, or did we merely imagine it?
The ghostly memory of the AmAnSet lingers near leader Andrew Kenny's new project the Wooden Birds as well, but it hardly hovers over it. If anything, Kenny, never a howler, is even more hushed here, with the Wooden Birds' debut Magnolia sounding as if it were recorded under extenuating circumstances-- a sleeping baby upstairs, say, or a sensitive neighbor-- only for Kenny to discover he liked how those muffled results turned out. Kenny and his new cohorts David Wingo, Lymbyc System drummer Michael Bell, and American Analog-vet Leslie Sisson seem to relish working within these spare constraints, where every note counts and nothing slips in to clutter to the songs. That precision and the process seem to have pushed Kenny in an interesting musical direction, too, seeing as so much of Magnolia recalls Lindsey Buckingham at his least manic, specifically the strange little ditties that fill Fleetwood Mac's Tusk and Mirage, nestled between the bigger hits. The resemblance is almost uncanny on songs such as "False Alarm", "Hailey", and the brief "Hometown Fantasy", which contains a heart-grabbing minor turn that's a perfect counter to its initial country feel.
That loose country vibe pervades tracks like "The Other One", "Quit You Once", and "Never Know" as well, each relatively interchangeable but so tasteful and uncomplicated their redundancy doesn't hurt, especially when Sisson starts chiming in with some breathy harmonies that fit the limited musical field like the last piece of a (simple) puzzle. After that it's back to songs like "Anna Paula" and "Seven Seventeen", the latter a deceptively sweet meet-cute number, and each with Sisson again playing a subdued Stevie Nicks to Kenny's mellow-mode Buckingham. Like much of Magnolia before it, the songs lope along quiet, lazy rhythms in no particular hurry to get where they're going. But while the Wooden Birds never quite arrive anywhere special, that's not to say Kenny isn't pointed that general direction. If Magnolia is a disc tinged with innocence and nostalgia, it's tinted by a hint of shadowy dread drawn from someplace more mysterious than Kenny is willing to reveal just yet.