Review Summary: A drastic leap into the mainstream with underwhelming results.
Tampa, Florida pop rock outfit Set It Off began their career with an absolute stockpile of potential, and it paid off quite well for them. Getting picked up by Equal Vision records and releasing a well-received debut album has put them on the tongues of a lot of kids in the alternative music scene, enough so as to attain them a slot on 2013’s Warped tour. The quirky uniqueness and theatricality of Cinematics
had them flying towards even higher peaks. Now 2014 brings sophomore release Duality
, with all the expectations that come with success of any reasonably high caliber. While the quality is sure to be divisively determined among fans, there’s no disputing that Duality
isn’t what most people expected from Set It Off.
While the orchestral pop punk/rock of their debut put them squarely on the map, Set It Off decided to toss their winning formula right out the window. They may have been aiming for acclaim and praise, but the result is too confused to hit the mark. What we have on Duality
is overtly poppy rock with a downgraded theatrical sense, that theatricality being the very thing that made them stand out no less. The orchestrations are less noticeable and the grandiose feeling of the last album is mostly gone, with a few exceptions. The instruments, while never being at a virtuoso level, were relatively varied and well performed on the last album. Here they fail to take the spotlight. The downfall of being so adequately competent that they blend right into the background and into obscurity. The guitars take the spotlight briefly on “Ancient History”, with a very pleasant guitar solo, but that is the exception to the rule.
Vocally, Set It Off has improved in a way, but digressed in another. Singer Cody Carson had a standout voice on Cinematics
and it has only improved here. However he has lost some of the character he issued into his performance before, and chooses to channel R&B for most of the album's length. The music was always vocally driven, but now his place has become a touch too overbearing, especially noticeable with the downgraded instrumental backing. His hooks are hit and miss, about half the songs being irresistibly catchy and the other half being difficult to remember at first listen. However the real downfall of his performance is his lyrics. His word craft was always Set It Off’s weakest component overall, but Carson could come up with some memorable lines and unbelievably catchy choruses in the past. On Duality
his lyrics are too often painfully bad. The absolute worst offender is this passage from “Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing”.
You've always been a huge piece of ***
If I could kill you I would
But it's frowned upon in all fifty states
Having said that, burn in hell
Despite the many criticisms I can level at the band, there is some light amongst the darkness. Looking past the marked change in sound, one could call Duality
a harmless and fun pop record. While too many songs lack memorability, the ones that don’t are sure to be ingrained in your head. Lead single “Why Worry” is an oddball of a song, with a gospel choir, but the vocal performance might be the best on the record. “Forever Stuck In Our Youth”, “Ancient History”, and “Tomorrow” are all catchy, fun songs, yet ironically are some of the most polished, poppy cuts here. Guest vocalist Jason Lancaster livens up the latter track, although the other guest performer, William Beckett, fails to energize his own, “Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing”. “Miss Mysterious” brings back the theatricality found in previous album closer “The Grand Finale”, which hearkens back to the Set It Off of old. The album, at the very least, manages to end on a relatively high note.
All in all, Duality
isn’t so much a failure as a bit of a disappointment. With a bit of work, Set It Off could carve something more substantial out of their next release. All they have to do is figure out where their sound really lies.