So, uh, is now a bad time to dump on Set Your Goals? Sure, Mutiny! was a kick-ass pop-punk/hardcore mash-up, stuffed with positive vibes and pirate references. And the group’s emancipation troubles with former label Eulogy Recordings -- in which the band had to buy-out their own contract for a rumored $150,000 -- certainly casts Set Your Goals as hungry underdogs (and makes new album title This Will Be the Death of Us sound morbidly prophetic). But wipe away the good old days of summer `06 and the sad buy-out backstory, and all that’s left is a merely decent pop-punk record.
Like many before them, Set Your Goals falters through a sophomore slump on This Will Be the Death of Us. It’s by no means a bad record; “The Few That Remain” and “The Fallen…” are both fist-pumping anthems in the same vein as “Flight of the Navigator” and “An Old Book Misread,” albeit with better, shinier production. In fact, on paper/computer screen, Death seems like it should be the better album. Drummer Michael Ambrose comes off steadier and more assured than ever before. The guitars are fuller. And co-vocalists Matt Wilson and Jordan Brown sound less Auto-Tuned, which shouldn't be surprising coming from Epitaph Records.
And yet, for all its musical improvements, the record slips into homogeneity. There are roughly 1,300 guest vocalists on this g.d. album, and only one, Paramore’s Hayley Williams, stands out. Reasons for her highlighted performance vary; she’s the only gal at this weenie roast, but she’s also got arguably the best pipes too. And while duders like Chad Gilbert (New Found Glory / International Superheroes of Hardcore / ex-Shai Hulud, in case you forgot), John Gula (Turmoil) and Vinnie Caruana (I Am the Avalanche / ex-the Movielife) interchangeably slip in and out, Williams get her own introduction on “The Few That Remain.” “Whoa, whoa, guys, um, is it cool if I get in on this here?” she asks, to which the fellows respond with a hearty, gender-mangling “Dude, go for it!” And then much rocking is enjoyed.
There are some good ideas spread around, but the overall feeling I get listening to This Will Be the Death of Us is disappointment. Too many of the early songs blur together. Given that Mutiny!’s optimism seems to have faded, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Four Year Strong-esque tour diary “Summer Jam” stands out as a fun ode to the open road, and “The Fallen…” and “The Few That Remain” are two honest-to-gosh catchy numbers placed back-to-back. But those good vibes are killed soon after by “Gaia Bleeds (Make Way for Man),” a laughable attempt at more hardcore-oriented songwriting. By this point, the record is almost over anyway, so while “Flawed Methods of Persecution & Punishment” boasts a jumble of catchy sections, it doesn't really sharpen Death’s dull blades.
At the same time, though, This Will Be the Death of Us isn't exactly an epic failure. None of the 12 tracks will incite a riot, and I suspect a good number of fans might be satiated by the sound quality. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to tour. Chalk it up to growing pains, maybe. Set Your Goals’ members have grown as musicians, but they’re still developing as songwriters.