You could probably write circles around the word "bias" concerning this. This is a review for Somerset's debut full-length, Pandora. Released on Punknews Records. Reviewed for Punknews.org. By someone who's enjoyed and followed the band for nearly 2 years.
That being said, Pandora is a more than solid debut from the Minneapolis quartet and for the label themselves, brimming with hooks galore, socially and personally conscious / religiously (vaguely) satirical lyrics and a diverse offering of indie/rock/punk/emo hybrids throughout.
It should be fairly essential knowledge around these parts that Somerset have two EPs under their belt besides Pandora, those being 2003's nearly flawless This Thought Process and last year's proper release of three demos the band originally cut in September 2003 with producer Chrid Fudurich (Rx Bandits, Nada Surf, Ozma), who handles the duties for Pandora here effortlessly as well.
One of my personally biggest issues with any release is the presence of re-recorded songs, but Pandora somehow manages to keep its flow intact despite the re-tooling of "The Tragedy Of Christopher Needs" (originally on the self-titled EP) and "Colors Of Insomnia" (TTP), as well as some touch-ups on the original recording of "Open Books" (S/T), which opens the disc and eventually leaks into "Clockwork," highlighting with its cynical chorus ("honey this is the end / take my hand as we send / all these people straight to hell"). The rest of the record finds itself jumping from style to style purposefully. "Dandelion Wine" finds lead singer/guitarist Forrest Olsen crooning over softly plucked acoustics and water washing up on the beach shore for a minute and change until things go into the double-time moments of its follower, "Rhyme Over Reason." "All You Are" experiments with some heavy guitar upstrokes in its verses via dub/reggae, while the subtle explosion of the chorus in "More Than Answers" ("reborn in the memory of your life / our love didn't die with you that night") makes it a standout. "I'd Rather Die Standing" serenades with Christmas bells in the bridge, and closer "House Of Knives" brings the album full circle with its fading lines of "fighting symptoms into circles endlessly / but open wounds won't heal themselves with sharpened knives / we lose our lives", repeated from "Open Books."
Complementing it all is an aesthetically pleasing, Autumn-colored layout courtesy of Chad Bergman, breathing new life into the recurring grunge theme that's boomed within the past few years and even relying on more glossy paper than liner notes are usually afforded.
Pandora is a damn fine effort of a record, unique despite being influenced by many who will forever go on to remain as underrated despite their respective statuses hailed as legendary by one a many critic. Hopefully Somerset isn't doomed to share the same fate.
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