From the opening lyrics on Set It Off’s latest effort, Midnight, they are clearly out for world domination: “Look out, they’re closing in on you now/Wake up, or you’ll wake up six feet down/Nobody’s got your back in this town/Knock em in the teeth now.” While some bands may get buried for using cliche phrases in their music, Set It Off make everything feel genuine and passionate on this record. By embracing the pressure of needing a sure-fire hit record on their hands (after signing a new deal with Fearless Records) the Tampa, Florida four-piece band deliver all over on Midnight.
Although I will be the first to admit that I’m very new to the world of Set It Off, having only seen their band live a few times on the Warped Tour and hearing their work through various punk compilations over the years, I came away from Midnight feeling like I may have been missing something incredibly crucial to the scene. Tracks such as “Hourglass” feature some excellent vocals from Cody Carson and mesh well with the backing instruments. “Lonely Dance” gives off major Fall Out Boy vibes, and I mean that in the most flattering of ways. From the great hooks to the polished production from producers Mike Green and Brandon Paddock, the band appears to have hit a winning formula in both their songwriting and recording processes.
Other songs such as the early album standout “Different Songs” rock with an upbeat swagger and features some brilliant guitar work from Dan Clermont and Zach DeWall. The harmonies and song structures, in general, are all incredibly underrated from the band here. “Dancing With The Devil” follows this song with some insightful lyrics on what may have been going on in the band’s life during the writing process when Carson sings, “Years of us building the trust up/No love was ever enough I’m/Foolish to think we were friends/It’s funny how it ends.” Many of us have experienced a relationship that turns out to be more one-sided than what we expected, and the discovery of this situation is summed up well.
One of my favorite songs on the record, “Midnight Thoughts” reminded me of a complex mash-up of Panic! At the Disco with some of The Cab mixed in. It features some well-placed string sections and has some darker vibes than what I had grown accustomed to from my casual Set It Off listening over the years. This surprising song showcases the full breadth of styles that the band is capable of making, and only enhance the listeners’ experience as they navigate through the 15-track album.
No pop-punk album would be complete without a few ballads mixed in, and Set It Off fill the void perfectly with “Criminal Minds.” The song is organized in a manner that has made All Time Low so successful, yet Set It Off bring in all of their energy and creativity into the track to make it work. By using a pop structure to the song that has plenty of rock and punk elements to it, the band covers all their bases in ensuring that it will register well with their audience. “Stitch Me Up” also falls into the mid-tempo ballad category, but features some unique guitar breakdowns to keep the listener guessing at the direction the song will go.
By the time you get to the closing duo of “Unopened Windows” and “Happy All The Time” you may already be mapping the next time you can fit Midnight into your album rotation list. “Unopened Windows” is written as a tender piano-based ballad, and it reminds us just how talented this band can be when they strip back some of the heavier elements from their sound. While the album closer wraps the record up in a concise bow, they still drop some fun lyrics into the mix into the second verse singing, “Sometimes living feels like a chore/Picking your emotions up off the floor/When hope feels like a four letter word/That’s when you say fuck it and live uncensored.” I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wanted to live by that mantra of that last lyric, yet responsibilities to my family and career have convinced me otherwise that things are going to end up okay.
In the end, Set It Off remind us that life will have its ups and downs, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a blast while getting through it all together. And that is a message that is worthy of turning up the volume for.