Review Summary: A near-perfect album, proving again that Set and Setting are definitely still well above the horizon
Set and Setting are a rare band. In their debut release, Equanimity
, they gave a flawless and emotional performance. They showed through that release that they were not a group to be messed with. A Vivid Memory
does exactly the same, but with time to hone their craft, it breaches new levels of complexity. If it stands up to their first LP, and on its own, it will be another classic, another album that will be lost in the ether of bands who have small niches, but epic ideas and execution.
The main thing to consider here is this: if I were to try and pick out the flaws with this album, I’d be almost as hard pressed as with their debut. Emphasis on “almost”. I’m going to pick them out anyway.
From the first track through to the last, clocking in at an almost 60-minute listen, you wouldn’t even realise that it had gone from 3pm to 4pm until you looked at a clock. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable album, and their ability to move on at just the right time is still very much there. “Descending Sun”, at nearly 12 minutes, feels exactly the same as the brief (yep, second shortest track here) five minutes of “Waves of Luminescence”, a feat that is hard to pull off for even the best band there is. They keep moving from riff to riff, time signature to odd time signature, at a rate I’d almost say is too fast. “Descending Sun” has a tendency to feel like it is rushing through ideas, especially around the 8-minute mark, where they suddenly cut from a couple of frequently switching riffs straight to a build-up that feels slightly forced in.
One of my favourite parts of this album is that it sounds different from their first. Considerably different. They have developed a sudden taste for a droning guitars instead of the melodic guitar work in the first album, which adds a signature to this album, and while the first album focused more on atmosphere, this has a general emphasis on their musical proficiency. One of the stand-out tracks in this regard is “Emptiness”, an incredibly short track which starts out worryingly with an acoustic guitar. The worries are put to rest, as it is one of the most beautiful and simple tracks on the album, working as a perfect intro to “Descending Sun” (so technically, that tune clocks in at over 14 minutes, but who’s counting").
The complexity in this album is not held back, and it leads to a respectable admiration of the guitarists and drummers alike, both having their moments. The guitar work has many flourishes, and the riffs are on average more complex than their previous work. It gives a sense that they have spent a lot of time honing their skills, fine tuning them to suit their style. I will mention “Descending Sun” again here, as it has some impressive drum work, from the rolls at the beginning to the beat at the end, as well as excellent riffs playing off each other, echoing and repeating and changing constantly. There are layer upon layer of complexity in every track, all perfect, not crying for attention, but you give it to them all the same.
That being said, one of the drawbacks, is the complexity. You admire layers and want to listen two or three times to actually be able to hear what’s going on. That’s the positive. The negative is that, because of this, the emotion in some tracks can be lost, as you are admiring from a distance and unable to really get involved in the track. I feel like “Coping” is supposed to feel uplifting, but it just seems too perfected and analytical for me to actually empathise with the story here. Other tracks, like “The Last Night, A Vivid Memory” has a very clear storyline, or premise, that I can get into, and brings us one of Set and Setting’s best tracks to date. It is a 10:30 love story, starting off slow and subtle, droning guitars and a very simple riff, building to something happy-sad, a riff in a major key but ultimately still upsetting, as if foreshadowing a bad event, while times are happy now, and then, after a small climax and coming back down to the slow quiet similar to at the beginning, before building to something grand for the finale, the goodbye Set and Setting could compose without even thinking (although I hope they do actually think about it). It seems natural, where a considerable portion of this album feels like it is very much over-thought.
That’s also the reason why “Waves of Luminescence” and “The Light That Left Us” are two of the best tracks here. The former is very reminiscent of their previous record, a slow and atmospheric work that has everything, including complexity, at just the right level to be enjoyable and get you involved, its droning guitar working as a melodic backup to the drums nearer the beginning, before the other guitarists join in, bringing in an echoed and simple-ish riff. It gets your foot tapping, and doesn’t do anything too complex as it crescendos before giving way smoothly to “The Inevitable Cycle”. The latter track is something very new to this album. It starts off with a simple rising and falling arpeggio, a humble drum beat, and slowly comes to a grand conclusion similar to Equanimity
’s “Fear of Obtainment”.
Overall, this album is incredible, and overlooking the few flaws that put it below their debut, A Vivid Memory
is an album I would rate in my top five albums of all time. But as an objective review, I must consider the flaws. It is technically perfected to a T, but that perfection comes with a loss of the emotion their debut have. But it’s still far, far above average for instrumental rock, or music in general, and is still a record not to miss, as I’ve really had to pick for flaws. But in this album, they are here, and so I must, unfortunately, pick at them.