I originally had some hesitation about getting back into the swing of writing album reviews after taking most of 2018 off, and I’m so glad Set It Off’s Midnight is the album bringing me back into writing.
Midnight comes in as the quartet’s fourth full length album, following an eerie-circus sounding Cinematics (2012), a pop vs. rock Duality (2014), and a dancey, groovy Upside Down (2016). SIO brings their A-game with their forthcoming album, mixing their darker, organic beginnings with their synthy, pop later work.
- Killer In The Mirror
So. Lemme get this outta the way right now. This was the lead single. Before hearing the album in full, I’d only heard the recorded version of the song once. Even seeing/hearing the song several times live, I wasn’t impressed. I thought SIO could do better, it just felt… flat? But now, listening to the album in full, I’ve come to appreciate it. I found the depth I originally felt was lacking within Cody Carson’s lead vocals. From the dirty, gritty, angry lead, to the epic, held out “Now I know” in the last chorus, to the falsetto backing vocals. While the song has grown on me since first listen, I still feel this is one of the weaker tracks on the album.
“Feel the fear
And swallow back the tears
Let weakness disappear
There’s nobody but me here
The killer in the mirror”
Remember how I said this album is a blend of the band’s previous work in one? Cinematic’s “Nightmare” plus the groove level of Upside Down’s “Tug of War” creates “Hourglass,” a song capturing the sensation of falling victim to the everlasting flow of time and its impact on an individual and that person’s relationships.
“Turn the page
Look back at what you wrote
Do you still feel the same?
I bet your mind has changed”
- Lonely Dance
An anthem for the socially anxious…or for the monster on board a spacecraft that just wants some “peace and quiet.” You decide. (See music video below for more on this.) The instrumental and vocal build up through the bridge into an abrupt acoustic third verse fills the desire for quiet amidst the all the chaos and noise.
“Lonely Dance” is a great example of how SIO stays “Set It Off” yet still manages to evolve their sound. The juxtaposition of the bridge and the verse reminds me of both Duality and Upside Down, while the darker theme of mental health reminds me of Cinematics. They took what worked in each of these previous motifs, combining them to within a more sophisticated sound and even catchier hooks.
“Some days I’m up, Some days I’m down
Some days the world is way too loud
Some days my bed won’t let me out”
- Different Songs
Goddamn, one thing Midnight does impeccably well is have intros to every song that grab your attention and pull you in. Lead guitarist Dan Clermont starts this one out with a simple, yet tasteful guitar riff.
Now, I’m a short song person. I seldom like songs over four minutes, and love when songs are under three. “Different Songs” lands at 3:46, an average song length, but it goes by so fast I actually wish it were longer. The song is so catchy that it had me singing along by the second listen and was stuck in my head when I woke up the next day.
Like “Hourglass,” this also about time; here, Carson explores its effect on how we sing songs. As we listen to our favorite songs over the years, the lyrics of songs stay the same, but the meanings we hold change as we do.
“We temper our words because we’re scared of the truth”
- For You Forever
This song tells the story of a person not wanting to wait for someone and trusting their gut when it tells them that that person may never feel the same way about them as they do. While the song is fun, lyrically the bridge feels lazy. With verses that have imagery as beautiful as “Nothing left to learn, on the shoulder of the highway / Colors in the blur, she’s there to fight the highway” earlier in the song, the lines “Does he give a fuck? Like you give a fuck?” leave me wanting more.
“Sick of painting every nightmare as a dream”
- Dancing With The Devil
Duality’s “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” 2.0, this song features the devil voice from Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop.” (Thanks to Jess for pointing out the voice.)
All jokes aside, “DWTD” shows just how much progress Set It Off has made since their 2014 fan-favorite “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.” This pointed tale of betrayal, rather than solely focusing on the other person, like in “WISC,” turns more introspective. It begins with imagery of someone standing over you, abandoning you in the dark. Seeing the hurtful actions perpetrated against you, the lyrics bring you to the edge, “wonder[ing] if our resigning is the silver lining” and deciding “I’m not a coward, I’m fighting,” changes the narrative to one’s self. Carson resolves the issue by getting back up and fighting for what he wants.
Instrumentally, the song sounds so clean, with Carson’s vocals and piano accompanied by Maxx Danziger’s drums at the forefront and Dan Clermont and Zach DeWall’s guitars and backing vocals giving the song body.
“You try to act as if you’re saving me
But you wouldn’t cut the rope if it was hanging me”
- Go To Bed Angry (feat. Wayfarers)
This is definitely one of the most pop-sounding tracks on the record, but that doesn’t mean it’s not packed with emotion. “Go To Bed Angry” brings an emotional plea to make amends before going to bed, set to a fun beat that begs you to sing along. The inclusion of Katie Cecil of Wayfarers is brilliant and turns the song into a conversation between Carson and Cecil. Their voices paired together blend beautifully and tells a story of both sides of a relationship wanting to fix things rather than let them simmer in the back of their minds until it comes to a boil and blows up in their face.
Also, I have to note how much I love how that, after Cecil mentioned “like we skipped a beat,” the song actually does skip a beat.
“‘Cause if we sleep in our feelings
We’ll never start healing”
- Midnight Thoughts
Another fantastic vocal and guitar-led intro that builds with snaps and strings that bring me back to SIO’s darker Cinematics days. My favorite of the album’s singles, “Midnight Thoughts” deals with those deep, dark voices that come alive in your head late at night, pestering your mind, driving you insane. With the chorused “ooos,” group claps, and groove-filled instrumentals that make you want to dance, this song is sure to be a banger live.
“I start making friends with the noise in my head”
- Criminal Minds
String-filled and drum-led, a bop that’ll leave you toe-tapping and head-bobbing for days. While the tune keeps an upbeat, happy demeanor, toward the end of the song, angst breaks out of Carson’s voice as he tells the other person to “hit the road,” uncovering some of the song’s darker lyrics – details of the struggle to see through a person’s twists and lies in the stories they tell.
“In a way you’re always right
By picking every fight
To call yourself the hero”
- No Disrespect
Track 10 of 15, a place where most albums struggle and filler songs are used, and SIO shows no signs of slowing down.
Coming in with more edge than its “Criminal Minds” predecessor, the cheerful veil has been lifted and it’s all anger from Set It Off. Even featuring a background scream from Carson, this almost-haunted track holds more anger with every listen; from the aggression within Carson’s voice, to the staccato guitars and drums from Clermont, DeWall, and Danziger to an almost-perpetual metronome beat that sounds like the ticking of a clock.
“I’m sorry but
I would not invite a thief
to watch my house or
hold my things”
- Stitch Me Up
Up there with long songs, I’m also rarely a fan of love songs. Call me a cynic, I tend to find them contrived, unoriginal, or excessive. Sonically, I love this song. It’s fun, passionate, and a great tempo.
My only complaint is a bit of a personal note: the societally-held idea that a person needs another person to complete them has never sat well with me. It derives from a greek myth: people were once in twos, split in half by Zeus, who feared their power. Now, we view people as incomplete, waiting for a soulmate, as if they’re not individuals with their own personality, feelings, and individuality.
“Stitch Me Up” is co-written by Jayden Seeley (With Confidence), and it definitely shines through: “SMU” reminds me of With Confidence’s “Sing To Me” and “Spinning” with a SIO twist.
“Like a doll in lost and found
So mistreated, thrown around”
- Raise No Fool
The band brings the fire and the flame with this one.
Landing at a tie with “Midnight Thoughts” as my favorite track on the record, “Raise No Fool” balances intense imagery of betrayal with the tone of Carson’s voice, alternating between melodic and a growl. The back up vocals emphasize certain words or phrases, which, while it works within this song, it reminds me of Josh Peck (circa Drake and Josh). The instrumentals are lively and loud; Danziger’s drumming makes me want to do one thing and one thing only: air drum with astounding enthusiasm. The sudden end of the song after the lyric “Won’t let you leave me hanging” only feels right.
I like to think there’s something to critique in everything, a constant room for improvement, but I can’t think of a single thing I wish Set It Off did differently with “Raise No Fool.” I absolutely cannot wait to see what they do next.
“I got a pain in my back bone
Where’d you get that knife from?
Why the hell is it so covered in red?”
- I Want You (Gone) (feat. Matt Appleton)
Whenever I try to sing along to this song I always sing “I want you back” instead of “I want you gone.” The melody is so cheerful and lively my mind naturally veers to the positive. The song is eclectic and relatable – a dynamite combination for anyone who’s been relieved after removing someone detrimental to their life.
Matt Appleton (Reel Big Fish) comes in with a spirited saxophone solo two thirds of the way through the song that creatively balances the track’s soul. It’s these added touches that bring SIO’s new album to the next level.
“I’m trapped in a nightmare that I could never wake”
- Unopened Windows
I normally write about songs out of order. When the inspiration comes to me, I write that song’s blurb. I’ve purposely put this one off for last. It’s not that I don’t like the song. Quite the opposite, really. As soon as I heard this song vivid scenes played in my head of moments that never happened and never will. May 5, 2019 marks three years since my mom died. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t lost someone so close to them would understand that I don’t just think about her everyday…I think about all the memories we had together. In flashes, I see our trip to NYC, driving down the highway perhaps a little faster than we should have. I see the sparkle in her eyes as she slipped underaged me the little samples of wine at a vineyard in Missouri.
I see not just those actual memories, but also the images my mind has fabricated–all the things we talked about doing together, but never got to do. I see us driving through the Appalachian Mountains just as the leaves change color, showing her around the city I made home: Boston. I watch us share my first legal drink, me introducing her to a serious boyfriend, her at my wedding, us returning to my childhood home as 30-somethings to spend Thanksgiving as a family.
“Unopened Windows” is a song about those dreams. It’s easy to get lost in them, to drown in them, knowing you have to pull yourself out, but not being able to…or wanting to.
Ballads are often a miss for me, but this one is heart-wrenching and hauntingly-beautiful. Starting as just piano, “Unopened Windows” soon adds Carson’s delicate-yet-comforting vocals, easing into new instruments in perfect increment. The song ends up a perfect balance of drums, background vocals, cello, and trumpet.
“Fantasy so close
Feels so afar”
- Happy All The Time (feat. Skyler Acord)
Midnight ends on a happy note with a positive message that you’re going to be okay. The song has a similar energy to “I Want You (Gone),” but “Happy All The Time” adds “Why Worry”-esque gospel vocals reassuring the listener that it’s alright to feel sad. It finds a silver lining: that “the only way to feel this sad / is if [you’ve] felt something before.” This trope is well-placed following the emotional ballad “Unopened Windows,” and is a great note to end an album on.
“When hope feels like a four letter word
That’s when you say ‘fuck it’ and live uncensored”
Overall: Midnight is Set It Off’s best work yet, combining elements of Cinematics’ sinister sound and guitars, Duality’s fight between light and dark, and Upside Down’s catchy pop hooks, all with a new Midnight twist. It’s sure to be a crowd pleaser for both old and new fans alike.
From catchy guitar licks, to a drumbeat that’ll make you groove, to a ballad that’ll tug at your heart strings, Midnight is definitely not an album to overlook.
Check Out: “Different Songs,” “Midnight Thoughts,” and “Raise No Fool”
Release Date: Feb 1