For the past two years, I’ve latched onto Set and Setting’s debut LP ‘Equanimity’ and never let go. To me, it’s the perfect album. It remains at that status in my head, and I’m sure it’ll stay that way for a very long time. It’s cinematic without being overly pretentious, and it’s technical without being inaccessible. It’s beautiful without being too fluffy, and it’s aggressive without being too violent for post-rock. It’s the perfect middle for so many things, it’s almost impossible to list the reasons why I love it.
When I saw that Set and Setting were teasing pictures on facebook about their second studio release, I could hardly contain my excitement. I was so excited, in fact, that my love for Set and Setting spread among my family, and it’s widely regarded as one of the best albums ever in my household. Words could not express my pain when I found out I’d be out of town for their one and only stop in my neck of the woods. “A Vivid Memory” was supposed to be perfection part 2, and when I finally downloaded the promotional copies for reviewers, it was like a dream come true.
The albums starts out with beautiful synth tones floating atop guitar chords. So pretty. The second guitar came in with its freely flying e-bow tones, and I was thinking of what I loved so much about Equanimity, like they were reminding me of who they were. Inevitably, they went into their blast beats and blazing guitars. The room was shaking and the air was pulsing with its sounds, and I knew that this was going to be something I would never forget.
As the pieces progressed from one to the next, I began to think things like ‘This isn’t as calm as before’ and ‘What happened to the theatrics, and field recordings?’ I realized the album had practically switched genres from post-rock to post-metal. It was heavier, it was far more aggressive, and a minor tonality had overcome their sound with undeniable intensity. It’d lost half of what made me fall in love with them in the first place. I figured that they felt a need to be louder, to compensate for the lack of orchestral music. They had retained their dramatic tendencies without the miniature orchestra in their 2012 Tour EP, but every band needs to make their own progressions, I guess.
When ‘Emptiness’ had started, my guesses were confirmed and my questions were answered. Is this going to be perfection part 2? Will I be able to enjoy this for as long as I’ve enjoyed their other works? Is my excitement validated?
“A Vivid Memory” simply couldn’t be as good as “Equanimity” and it most certainly couldn’t be better. I was left with the conclusion that this album is worse. The acoustic chord progression sounds almost identical to the acoustic parts of “Equanimity”, and it was in the same key as all of the previous songs in “A Vivid Memory”. Two very big mistakes occurring simultaneously.
To say that the album continues in a similar manner for the remainder of the album would be an understatement. In continues in EXACTLY the same manner. The exact same key. Even Doom metal doesn’t drag on like this heap of disappointment does. And I actually like a fair bit of Doom. This is just… sad.
When I wrote my review for Echoes and Dust, you could say I was a bit overwhelmed at how conflicted I was. At times I found myself stewing over the flaws, and getting frustrated about every little thing they did. Other times I felt I was enjoying it out of desperation; I’d tire of listening to Equanimity five times in a row, and would look for something else. I just listened to A Vivid Memory because was Set and Setting music that wasn’t Equanimity. Let me tell you, it’s the worst way to enjoy an album. It’s not even like going back to the fridge a hundred times over, and coming out with no more food than when you started. It’s like coming back with food you said you’d throw out the day before.
This may a bit harsh, but I can’t help but feel upset when I listen to this ‘Best of Equanimity’ trash, like they took a third of what I liked about Equanimity, and fluffed it up into a full album. And what’s worse is the attention it’s getting. It’s as if no one notices that it’s all in the same key for the whole album. Even conceptual albums that flow from beginning to end have more variation than this.
Just before the album was released, I asked Set and Setting, via Twitter, what set this album apart from their earlier work, and their succinct reply was “Heavier.”
While I appreciate the brevity of their response, I can’t help but feel that this response is also what’s wrong with this album. You can’t just blare away and expect it to be a good album. You might have a popular album on your hands, but by no means will it be a work of art. And that’s just what happened here.
After chewing through all of the gristle that is “A Vivid Memory”, I pondered why this monstrosity would be produced from the same band that created such beautiful sounds before. A thought came to me, and it almost startled me:
“What if they just got lucky with Equanimity?”
Lucky, indeed. I mentally debated with myself over this question. I’m fairly sure they had written much of it before they made the official switch to Prosthetic Records, but that may have had a hand in it. Even if it did, it wouldn’t be that monumental an influence. There weren’t any lineup changes, so that’s out. Maybe the band only saw feedback about the heavier parts of the album, but even then the band should stick to what they want to make. Otherwise, it’s lost the status of being a piece of art, and becomes an attempt to become rich. When a band goes back on what they started out for in the first place, they will lose part of what made them what they are. Like selling out to yourself.
After the dust had settled in my head, I agreed that Set and Setting is just a band that got lucky. I won’t be holding my hopes as high as before, if at all.
My brother still plays his copy of ‘Equanimity’ on vinyl every once in a while, and I can’t help but poke my head into the room for a bit, and listen to it. It’s a very bittersweet feeling, but the sweet sounds of ‘Equanimity’ make the memories of ‘A Vivid Memory’ a little less vivid.