Rumor has it that traditional pop-punk is back on the upswing. After years of domination by the sugary, summery pop-rock of We The Kings, All Time Low, Paramore, and more (all of whom have either faded into oblivion or gone on to transcend the scene into the real of Top 40 pop), the scene’s hardest hitters, including Blink 182 and The Movielife, have returned to the forefront alongside newer acts like Fireworks, The Wonder Years, and, most importantly, Set Your Goals. The latter has enjoyed a substantial amount of success in the past year following shameless plugs from industry folks ranging from Hayley Williams to Vinnie Caruana and the resonant emotion present in their breakout sophomore album, This Will Be The Death Of Us. Of course, with widespread recognition comes an even greater responsibility to construct a hard-hitting follow-up album. Unfortunately, while the album in question, 2011’s Burning At Both Ends, follows the rote aspects of pop-punk, from the mosh-worthy breakdowns to the massive choruses, it’s glossy production deprives it of the soul that made Set Your Goals so fantastic to begin with.
The album begins with “Cure For Apathy,” a track that captures what is both great and lacking in this record. While the song’s construction is upbeat, catchy, and everything else that a good pop-punk track should be, it lacks an important feature of all pop-punk: soul. Any band can construct an album of power chords (and an occasional guitar solo), but the truly great pop-punk acts have been able to channel their emotion into their music to create a truly memorable experience for the listener. “Cure For Apathy,” and the album in general, are so slickly produced that any emotion has been sucked right out. Where This Will Be The Death Of Us’s self-titled opening track summoned goosebumps on the listener from the emotion in the two vocalists’ voice, “Cure For Apathy” just ends up sounding hollow. Such is the problem with the large portion of the record, causing such attempts at furious punk music as “Exit Summer” and “Unconditional” to fall short. While the band (and the vocalists) are extremely competent, with beautiful harmonies (on tracks such as “The Last American Virgin”) and absolutely killer guitar solos (as can be seen on “Trenches) mixed in with the standard gang vocals and breakdowns.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. While the excessive gloss detracts from much of the album’s feel, there are times when the gloss lends itself to brand new heights for Set Your Goals. “Happy New Year” is anthemic and definitely has single potential, with the production adding to the sing-along nature of the chorus. Meanwhile, “Trenches” shines with its dynamic orchestration that the production only clarifies. Yet, the album’s shining moment comes in its final moments. In the two penultimate tracks, “Raphael” and “Illuminated Youth,” band’s emotions seem to break through the album’s gloss to give the listener a glimpse at the human feeling that made the band’s previous two releases such delights. The furious “Illuminated Youth” also includes an element of Set Your Goals’ sound that was noticeably absent from the rest of this record: screaming. This alone is enough to make “Illuminated Youth” one of the record’s strongest, angriest, and most emotional tracks, even though it pales in comparison to Death’s barnburner, “Gaia Bleeds (Make Way For Man).”
Overall, Burning At Both Ends, is strong on a technical level, but suffers from much-too-glossy production. The band still has their emotion, but it has been drowned out by glossy production, with the end result being generic, run-of-the-mill pop-punk (albeit, with a few wonderful exceptions). The future could be bright for this band, but if they don’t infuse their next release with emotion, their career could wind up burning at both ends.
2. Start The Reactor
4. Happy New Year
5. London Heathrow
7. The Last American Virgin
8. Exit Summer
10. Product of the 80s
12. Illuminated Youth
13. Not As Bad
Set Your Goals are a San Francisco, California based pop punk band with hardcore influences and dueling vocalists formed in 2004. The band name comes from melodic hardcore band CIV's first album, Set Your Goals.... read more