On February 1st, 2019 the band Set it off released their fourth album Midnight. The four-piece knew going in they had an uphill battle to fight when it came to this new album, and they came out swinging with some of their best material to date. But before we can dive too deep into the new, we have to take a step back and run through Set It Off’s journey to get this new era in their sound.
Though Set It Off signed had signed with Equal Vision Records in 2011, it wasn’t until they released their debut album Cinematics in 2012 that they really started to come into their own. By incorporating orchestral sounds in their music, Set It Off managed to take their pop punk origins and push their sound to something more theatrical, and arguably comparable of bands like Panic! at the Disco and Marianas Trench, but still different enough to stand out. Cinematics featured dark sounds, with heavy guitars and whirlwind of different instruments from trumpet, clarinet, violin, mandolin amongst several others. This dynamic range of sounds helped the band to create a dynamic musical debut that fans of the band still come back to today.
Following this release, Equal Vision Records announced in Set It Off’s usual dramatic fashion that they would be recording with producer John Feldmann, who had produced albums for several of the artists that inspired Set It Off’s formation. Later though, the band announced that due to personal reasons outside of their and Feldmann’s control, they would no longer be working together and that their new album would be produced by Brandon Paddock, who’s previous credits included The Used and Panic! at the Disco. Despite all of the behind the scenes difficulties, Set It Off was still able to snag a mention in Alternative Press’ “Most Anticipated Music of 2014” Issue. Their sophomore album Duality was released in October 2014 to general acclaim. The followup expanded on their orchestral/pop punk roots while adding in some new sounds and a willingness to play with the more pop side of their sound. Set It Off found some of their biggest success with the sonic balancing act they played with Duality, and were able to keep that momentum going despite facing issues in May of 2015 when sexual harassment allegations were made against their bassist, Austin Kerr. The band released a statement letting fans know that they took the allegations seriously and that Kerr would no longer be in the band, while not cancelling any tour dates.
With all eyes on Set It Off now, they knew they were ready for their next chapter. Fans were highly anticipating the band’s next release, which would be their first without Kerr. In October 2016, Set It Off released their third album Upside Down, which doubled the first week sales of Duality. Upside Down saw the band fully embrace the pop sound they flirted with on their previous release, which divided fans. The album featured a variety of different sounds, but leaned towards a much lighter sound than they had previously recorded. While initial sales were positive, the album’s staying power didn’t prove to be incredibly strong aside from a few standout singles. Many of the songs featured lyrics about their past struggles with Kerr, and the court cases with him trying to extort the other band members for money from their new album, which he had not worked on (which the band has been very public about).
With three albums under their belts, Set It Off was desperately ready for a fresh start, which they found through Fearless Records. In July of 2018, Set It Off announced they had signed to Fearless Records and released new single “Killer In The Mirror”. The band would from their go on to announce the title of the album as Midnight. The band felt that the goal of the album was to find a balance in their sound. They wanted to be able to go back to their roots and play more rock-oriented songs with a darker sound, but didn’t want to lose their willingness to experiment, or completely abandon their more pop sensibilities. The band found difficulties trying to walk the line between these two things, something they have let fans in on in their “Midnight Thoughts” video series. They wanted to be able to produce music that both paid homage to their roots while also moving their sound forward, and honestly I think they’ve done just that.
The Strong Points
Set It Off come out swinging with the first few tracks off of Midnight. After first single “Killer In The Mirror”, they take things up a notch with “Hourglass”, a strong example of the quartet’s greatest strength: mixing different styles of music with their signature style. The song dances back and forth between it’s aggressive staccato and it’s playful dancey chorus, with a creepy, Halloween-esque children’s choir on the bridge. Being one of the shorter tracks on the album, it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and keeps the listener engaged for the next track and standout single: “Lonely Dance”.
“Lonely Dance” is perhaps the most ‘Set It Off’ a Set It Off song can be. Combining the bands bombastic dark style they were known for with Cinematics, and the confidence in and willingness to experiment with their sound they found with Upside Down, the track stands out as one of the strongest tracks on the album. While the lyrical content does date itself fairly easily as an anthem for the introverted teen, Set It Off is playing to their base audience here and they know exactly what they’re doing because they’re doing it well. The album’s excitement doesn’t slow down here though. Fourth track “Different Songs” comes in with a guitar loop that symbols exactly what this song is going to be: the dance number Set It Off has always wanted but never quite seemed to manage before. With the handclap percussion that picks up and the background vocals that come in at the end of the first verse, you can feel how the song is building up momentum for it’s dance hall-ready chorus. With funky bass and layered vocals, “Different Songs” easily sets itself apart from the rest of the album while still fitting within the established sound so far.
Other highlights include tracks “For You Forever” with it’s catchy chorus and powerful guitars and screaming bridge, and “Midnight Thoughts” which seems to be the defining track of the band’s new “era”: easily danceable while maintaining a darker tone to it. Later track “No Disrespect” is also a high point, which starts off with a fierce but still radio-friendly bass line going throughout and a pre-chorus that builds perfectly into the rest of the song. All three are excellent examples of Set It Off Playing with a pop sound while still keeping their edge.
They Can’t All Be Winners
Keeping the steam going for 15 tracks is a daunting task for any artists, and like many albums before it, Midnight starts to lose steam in the latter half of its run time. While not too bad, songs like “Raise No Fool” and “I Want You (Gone)” feel more generic, and stand out less than the rest of the tracks on the album. Despite this they both still do try some different things, and they aren’t terrible. Just not something I find myself coming back to.
The real disappointment on the album comes with track eleven, “Stitch Me Up”. Without a doubt the weakest track on the album, “Stitch Me Up” is a lyrical low for Set It Off. With lines like “ Stitch me up, stitch me up/There’s pins in my heart/Pardon all my precious scars”, the song plays out like a bad teen’s love poem with a beat behind it. That, and hearing the way vocalist Cody Carson says “That’s what makes you sexy to me” honestly makes me cringe a little. Like a few tracks on their previous album Upside Down, this is more of a pop track than rock, and while that doesn’t have to be bad, “Stitch Me Up” feels out of place with the rest of the album, and is easily forgettable amongst an otherwise pretty good lineup of tracks.
Finding Their Sound
Through all of the struggle and difficulties the band has faced through it’s career, they have come out on top with this album. After going through what you might call a musical identity crisis between their three albums, Set It Off have truly found their sound and it is the perfect balance between their previous three outings. Midnight not only shows growth from the band, but a newfound staying power in their scene that will more than likely keep them going as mainstays in their genre, while helping them to expand beyond it. Well done, Set It Off. Well done indeed.
Highlights: Hourglass, Lonely Dance, Different Songs, No Disrespect, Midnight Thoughts
Skip’em: Stitch Me Up, Raise No Fool, I Want You (Gone)
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