Set It Off


Written by: TL on 27/10/2014 22:54:17

With 2012's "Cinematics", Tampa quintet Set It Off debuted and made a considerable opening impact with a theatrical pop-rock sound that had enough scene stylings to appeal to edgy teenagers, despite being unusually lacking in the cookie cutter breakdowns bands popular with that crowd tend to have passed off as music in recent years. This year they seek to build momentum with "Duality", and right of the bat, the main divisive factor is the band going even poppier, so if bands that straddle the chasm between the rock scene and radio pop already annoy you, this is where you might as well get off, while those curious for such experiments might read on a bit longer.

Make no mistake though: When I say the new Set It Off album is poppy, I mean we're way past the territory of even The Higher or Go Radio (the latter of whom's Jason Lancaster guests on "Tomorrow"), sitting firmly in a territory where the instrumental backbone may be guitar/bass/drums setup plus your garden variety sampled strings, horns and keys, yet the vocals delivered by singer Cody Carson are as Backstreet Boys as you can be without actually being Nick Carter. Let me stress that this is no exaggeration: The rhythm and tone of the singing style is uncannily similar, particularly in a part like the verse to "Bleak December".

The good news is that good old BSB were annoyingly popular for a reason: They had ridiculously catchy and lively vocal arrangements written for them, and to say that Carson keeps the pace similarly vivid is only right on the money. Regretably, if you expect a "rock" band to have more depth - as many indeed would - you'll be sorely disappointed, because the lyrics on "Duality" are mostly utterly awful. "The Haunting" opens with bitter proclamations to haunt an ex-lover who, according to Carson, will never find a worthy replacement, while the following "N.M.E" turns its attention to any new suitors cautioning them to stay well clear of the particular she-beast upon which the song seeks to exact vengeance.

The "duality" of this music is that however banal it is lyrically, "N.M.E" is among the most infectiously catchy melodies on the record, despite how much your toes cringe upon paying attention to the words. Similarly, "Forever Stuck In Our Youth" has a great pop verse and a deceptively enjoyable chorus melody, yet the pre-chorus prompts you to sing along to "We're young, we're dumb and we don't care!" I guess at least the theme shifted from childish jealousy, and come "Bleak November" you can have some stupid fun noticing how well that one part lends itself to singing Britney's classic "I'm not. That. Innocent!"

If you consider the lyrics stupid fun then, you can dig out a good pile of solidly resolved moments from this batch of boyband rock. I will concede as much. That said, Set It Off's supposedly cinematic trademark is only present in an alibi-like role, with completely run of the mill samples that do the bare minimum to provide nuance around the dominating vocal lines, and in terms of conventional instrumental goodness there's also little in terms of novel ideas at play, save perhaps for a pseudo-funky guitar bit here and there. Jason Lancaster and William Beckett's guest appearances are barely noticeable, and generally, taking in all eleven track does become an endurance test for your tolerance for cornyness.

Overall "Duality" has more enjoyable moments that most dead average records, but at the same time it is sufficiently insufferable lyrically to drag the highlights down to a mediocre final grade anyway. If for no other reason, then simply because it is pretty feeble next to pop-rock master-craft like that of Marianas Trench, or even that of a record like The Higher's "It's Only Natural" from 2009. The super poppy rock thing simply isn't as novel as Set It Off might think, and it certainly has been done so much better already, that "Duality" will fade while others shine on. But if you want some brazen melodies to have fun with for a couple of weeks and are perhaps curious to hear what a Backstreet Boys-alike sounds like in 2014, then go right ahead.


Download: Forever Stuck In Our Youth, N.M.E, Duality
For The Fans Of: Backstreet Boys (yep, went there), The Higher, Go Radio, Alive In Standby (on "Never Ending")

Release date 14.10.2014
Equal Vision / Rude Records

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