January 28, 2019 Set It Off – Midnight (Album Review)
It has been nearly three years since Set It Off went Upside Down, and now they are back with a maelstrom of sounds that are swirling together at Midnight. Fearless Records delivers the band’s intriguing fourth disc, which arrives on Friday, February 1, 2019.
Formed in 2008 in Tampa, Florida, Set It Off cemented their place in the scene four years later with their full-length 2012 debut Cinematics. Meanwhile, 2014’s Duality and 2016’s Upside Down continued to build the band’s name as they toured alongside the likes of Black Veil Brides, Falling in Reverse, Simple Plan, Yellowcard, ONE OK ROCK, Tonight Alive, State Champs, As It Is, and, of course, performed on the Vans Warped Tour. They’ve seen controversy, worked alongside top-notch charities, become Alternative Press darlings, covered the likes of Ariana Grande, and owe a great bit to Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low. It’s certainly been an interesting career for Set It Off, thus far!
For 2019, the boys — Vocalist Cody Carson, Guitarists Dan Clermont and Zach DeWall, and Drummer Maxx Danziger — are mixing things up with a truly eclectic collection of catchy toe-tappers that are steeped in universal Pop Rock themes. The 15-track collection was produced by Mike Green (5 Seconds of Summer, Neck Deep) and aims for boldly unpredictable, guitar-driven Rock fraught with ambitious, anthemic Pop sensibilities and a glossy, electronic sheen that will leave you pulsing on the dancefloor. But do they get there?
Midnight kicks off to the demanding earworm “Killer in the Mirror,” a groovy little head-bopper that will have you singing along as you dance your ass off. There are no bloody intentions here: the track speaks of having to harden one’s exterior to survive in this dog eat dog world. For “Hourglass,” they unleash an intriguing blend of experimental sonics that combine into something that comes across as an edgy Backstreet Boys. Meanwhile, there’s a delicate Latin flavoring to “Lonely Dance” that builds into a full-on Pop Rock hip-shaker with delicious electronics. It’s clear to see the appeal of Set It Off in tracks like “Lonely Dance,” however, the band could sound so much more powerful if they were mixed into proper layers to hit at maximum impact.
In fact, as it stands, Midnight is very much a mixed bag. The standouts are clear, obvious choices for singles, like the deliciously ‘80s-infested Synthpop forewarning of “For You Forever.” Here, The Midnight’s moog synthliciousness meets Set It Off’s infectious Pop Rock. When they return to this gritty ‘80s aesthetic for the swagger of “No Disrespect,” it authors a similarly scrumptious earworm. “Killer in the Mirror” and “Lonely Dance” also hold places of distinction amidst the collection.
The feature guests on the album are an intriguing and eclectic blend of musicians that serve to complement Set It Off’s strengths. Indie Pop duo Wayfarers lend their talents to the electronic “Go To Bed Angry,” and Vocalist Katie Cecil’s wispy voice is perfectly suited to the duet with Carson. Similarly, Saxophonist Matt Appleton (Reel Big Fish) delivers his brand of sass to the delicate bop of “I Want You (Gone).” While, to close out the lengthy collection, they amp it up with the funky toe-tapper “Happy All the Time,” which features Issues’ Bassist Skyler Acord in one final, triumphant send-off to Midnight.
This leaves the remainder of the album: catchy, largely generic offerings that run the gamut of influences and, while they take chances, we’ve heard them all before. From the quasi-Disco dustings of “Different Songs,” to the delicate Hip-Hop sensibilities of the punctuated “Dancing with the Devil,” to the completely cliché “Raise No Fool,” the songs are never hard on the ears, but they largely fall into the category of filler.
If there’s a song that was made for vapid Top 10 stardom it’s the quasi-acoustic “Stitch Me Up,” with its universal themes of bruising love. Similarly, piano ballad “Unopened Windows” falls flat on emotion but it’s not alone in this fact. It often feels like Carson is singing someone else’s stories instead of his own, like he’s painting an intentionally generic picture for the sake of universal appeal. Fortunately, his voice has moments of Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump and Say Anything’s Max Bemis, a fluid intimacy for heartfelt confessions with a rawness that keeps him from being perfectly, disgustingly saccharine sweet. If used to its potential, Carson can harness greatness.
As it is, Midnight is chock-full of filler — not bad filler, but filler nonetheless. It’s catchy, it seduces the ears and will put a smile on the listener’s face, but at the end of the session, it’s easily forgotten because it’s all a bit vapid. Carson and his band are talented, no doubt, and they possess the means to achieve greatness. Midnight, however, has not fully materialized their talents to place them at the pinnacle of their success. No disrespect, Cryptic Rock give Set It Off’s Midnight 3.5 of 5 stars.