Set It Off has had quite a year. They’ve been upgraded to the main stage at Vans Warped Tour, set off on a world tour and parted ways with their bassist, Austin Kerr, after he was accused of sexually harassing underage fans. Since 2008, the band has been steadily gaining momentum in the pop punk market. They’ve now released multiple EPs and three full length albums under Equal Vision Records, who signed them after the band was promoted on frontman Cody Carson’s YouTube channel. Their second LP, Duality, doubled the first-week sales of Cinematics, their debut, and in just a year the band transitioned to a headlining position on the Vans Warped Tour, the Mecca of all punk-adjacent genres.

Following this success, Set It Off has used Upside Down to alter their sound slightly. Whether this change is just another band who came up in the AltPress universe trying to score more radio play and broaden their pool of listeners or a move to distance themselves from the events of the past year, Upside Down doesn’t sound like the same Set It Off from 2014. All of the accusatory anger and maudlin lyrics about death that flooded their last album have been transformed into catchy melodies that go down easy but don’t offer much sustenance.

The album’s title track is a bouncy encouragement to find the silver lining in every bad situation. It’s more pop than punk, a clear departure from Duality’s eponymous dirge featuring a haunting choir and eerie lyrics. Set It Off’s edge has been sanded down, made ready for not only their loyal fans, but also soccer moms using Spotify’s Discover Weekly to find some family-friendly tunes for the next carpool. The song was co-written by All Time Low’s Alex Gaskarth, a longtime mentor of founding member Carson. This makes sense when you take a look at All Time Low’s own path to mainstream success. The band also went through a musical shift since their time as pop punk royalty. It’s not uncommon for bands that began doing Blink-182 covers to switch things up once they gain notoriety, but Set It Off’s transition seems to be more abrupt than most. A probable reason for such a swift changeup is the loss of their bassist Austin Kerr.

In May of 2015, a post appeared on Tumblr accusing Kerr of sexually harassing fans that he met at Set It Off’s shows who were underage. This created a snowball effect and other girls began coming forward with claims ranging from Kerr simply making fans uncomfortable to outright sexual misconduct. The very next day, the band announced that they had cut ties with Kerr and continued with their tours as planned. With an original member being accused of something this serious, one would think that Upside Down would be chock-full of references to the event or at least loads of “let’s move on” type tracks, but instead the album is noticeably empty of anything that seems driven by this major change. In fact, it’s empty of any real emotionally-driven material at all.

Much of the album is catchy as all hell, but with the absence of Set It Off’s signature angry-boy energy comes a lack of intensity. “Crutch” and “Something New” are some of the most radio-friendly songs that the band has released, tracks that speak to a wider audience, while “Diamond Girl” unfortunately doesn’t have the same draw as Nice & Wild’s classic hit and falls flat. The rest of the album is composed of Nice Guy pop-rock tracks that lament that women don’t understand how much Carson loves them and won’t treat him better.

Whether this is an attempt to distance themselves from the Kerr situation or a ploy to break free from their pop punk roots, it’s clear Set It Off is trying something different. Upside Down doesn’t measure up to their past albums in terms of emotional intelligence or energy levels, but it’s still an enjoyable listen, even if it leaves us desiring a more tightly curated and personal experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Yellowcard: Yellowcard

Never a band to withhold information or pull any punches. …