Four–piece Florida pop punk band Set it Off always seemed to be on the second string of its genre, never quite as famous as acts like Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, or All Time Low, although the latter band had a hand in Set it Off's development. Frontman Cody Carson was inspired to create a band of his own after being invited to perform with All Time Low at a Cleveland show in 2008. With the recent release of the band's fourth LP, Midnight, on Feb. 1, Carson and the other three members of Set it Off seem poised to join the ranks of their inspirations.
The first single off of Midnight, "Killer in the Mirror," was released back in July 2018, paired with an announcement that the band was moving from its old label, Equal Vision Records, to Fearless Records, home of Pierce the Veil and former label of seminal emo band Mayday Parade. "Killer in the Mirror," with its aggressive, danceable synth beat and suitably high–energy vocals, is the best song that Fall Out Boy never wrote.
The second single, "Lonely Dance," followed in November, in conjunction with the announcement of Midnight and a spring headlining tour that will hit Union Transfer on March 3. Although both songs share lyrical themes about growing content with being alone ("There's nobody but me here / The killer in the mirror," "Solo's the only way I can breathe / So I just do my little lonely dance"), "Lonely Dance" trades in the electronic backing for a Latin–esque, trumpet–heavy rhythm. Carson, who studied classical clarinet at Oberlin before forming Set it Off, has always infused the band's punk foundation with orchestral instruments, and classical cues from trumpet, piano, and clarinet have helped give the band its unique sound. Midnight fits right into the mold, with live strings, horns, and a gospel choir, in addition to Carson's clarinet and guitarist Dan Dermont's trumpet.
The next three songs to be released in anticipation of the album, "Dancing with the Devil," "For You Forever," and "Midnight Thoughts," all fall into the typical Set it Off sound. Carson's voice rises and falls with every line, punching every word he wants to emphasize, while the music behind him begins sparse and swells with every chorus. The familiarity of these songs, both to regular Set it Off listeners and to fans of more well–known pop punk influences like Dashboard Confessional and New Found Glory, make Midnight easy to listen to on repeat. It's just familiar enough that it can fade into the background when one needs to focus but fast–paced with a strong enough beat to dance to in the basement of a pop punk house party—or perhaps, in the style of Carson's "Lonely Dance," alone in your room.
Each individual song walks the line between background noise and the catalyst for an impromptu sing–along, and the album maintains that blend. Besides the lead single "Killer in the Mirror," whose unique sound stands in such contrast to the rest of the album that one wonders whether it was meant to be a single and only added to the Midnight track list later, there are no standout numbers. Almost every song is acoustically pleasing, whether an individual track is chosen at random or if the album is enjoyed in its entirety.
The one exception and stumbling block is "Go To Bed Angry," with a vocal feature from Wayfarers. The back and forth between the male and female narrator belongs in a Disney Channel movie. Case in point: "Push and we pull, it's the bad side of good / Trading blows, (Trading blows) / Highs for lows (highs for lows) / When we hurt just to heal / Shed a tear just to feel." If Zac Efron hadn't moved on to playing Ted Bundy, Troy and Gabriella would be harmonizing those lyrics in High School Musical 4: The Reunion.
If anything, however, the fact that "Go To Bed Angry" falls roughly at the halfway mark of Midnight only showcases how enjoyable the rest of the album is. For those who have been following Set it Off from the beginning, this new release marks a worthy successor to the foundation built from previous LPs. On the other hand, someone whose closet consists of My Chemical Romance shirts and black skinny jeans and happens to catch "Killer in the Mirror" or "Lonely Dance" on Spotify radio may be inclined to check out this artist that sits between classic Fall Out Boy and Panic!'s recent dabblings in baroque rock. If any release were to add a new artist to the list of pop punk deities, Midnight seems poised to take the title that Set it Off has been owed for over a decade.