Ever since their spotlight moved away from them, there’s been a noticeable downswing in how resilient Set It Off have felt. Duality itself has definitely aged a bit (it’s a pop-rock album from the early 2010s, so of course it has), but between the straight-up pop of Upside Down that many saw as an overstep, and the intended course correction of Midnight that’s all but dissipated in impact since, there’s been very little certainty to work with. That’s fitting for a band who’ve taken the brunt of as much flux as they have, but it doesn’t foster much hope either. The clear desire to lean towards pop isn’t the issue; the issue is how scattered Set It Off’s method of doing so is, where there’s little indication of knowing how to do it efficiently. At least on Elsewhere there’s a transparency about this being so transitional, and the ultimately might wind up its biggest saving grace. As a collation of elements that have defined each of their past releases, it’s flawed for sure, and overtly so, but the charm in that stands stronger than it has in a while. That’s not to absolve its more major faults though, chiefly how, for an era laden in such garish aesthetic colours, Elsewhere holds back on going that distance wholly. When they’re simultaneously trying to wedge in Midnight’s darker, brooding tones alongside, it makes for some awkwardness in how this all comes together, where the percussion will ultimately dominate and make the likes of Cordial or Peekaboo notably gated. On the other hand though, for a band in Set It Off’s position, a giant chorus can make a lot of difference, even in residually brightening what’s around it. Why Do I might have one of the jerkiest, clunkiest instrumentals on the whole album (with cheap-sounding wisps of horns to boot), but that hook is an absolute monster, and the same logic applies to Loose Cannon or The Magic 8 in terms of the quickest workaround for some obvious stylistic deficiencies.
That’s probably why it’s tempting to be more charitable to Elsewhere than it otherwise warrants or deserves. Its failings are brazen, but Set It Off can still power through them with the might to turn it around and make something work in the end. Even right down to the weeds, where it’s unquestionably too long and feels reliant on the band’s usual lyrical trappings, there’s a force of personality in the driver’s seat to keep it surging forward regardless. You can more or less attribute that to Cody Carson on his own then, who’s still a charismatic vocal presence with a lot of power, and the dexterity between softer vulnerability and rap flows to trim away a further layer of flab. It’s not even too bad instrumentally when things start to click either, not just because there’s more audible bass than is typically deigned to albums like this, but because it dispenses with some of the overblown ponderousness that tends to afflict alt-pop. It’s where the best parts of Set It Off wanting to just be a pop band come through, in how Loose Cannon or Who’s In Control have a sharpness to them that the stiffer-produced edges helps to facilitate, and thus can feel a fair bit more purposeful. It isn’t much, but the differences do feel noticeable, between both Set It Off’s discography and others in the field on similar paths. The ideas that Set It Off have spitballed for at least two albums are finally starting to come together, with the seams still showing but with a core of refinement beginning to come into view as well. For the first time in ages, there’s a clear-cut game plan for what Set It Off want to do, not to mention finally enough evidence to feel hopeful about where they’re going.
For fans of: Waterparks, Stand Atlantic, Point North
‘Elsewhere’ by Set It Off is released on 11th March on Fearless Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall