Monday, June 27, 2011

Even As We Get Older: Youthful Trappings and the Development of Set Your Goals

It's exceedingly rare that my friends introduce me to music I don't like.  During my 6 year tenure as a sales associate at Hot Topic, one of my co-workers introduced me to a band called Set Your Goals.  This was shortly after Mutiny!, their first full-length, was released.  I had noticed the album sitting on the shelves, as its large swashbuckling font and treasure map cover art stood out.  "Dude, it's a pirate pop-punk album," my co-worker said as he handed me a copy of it.  I said it sounded pretty cool.  He smiled as he chirped, "I know, right?"

I was floored by this record.  As one of my earliest forays into pop-punk/hardcore hybrid acts, I didn't expect anything like what I had heard.  The speed, the hooks, the catchiness, the gang vocals - everything put a smile on my face.  But what struck me more than any of that were the lyrics.  Matt Wilson and Jordan Brown's vocal tag-teaming and utterly surprising lyrics (for a modern offshoot punk band) worked together seamlessly to create a message of unrefined positivity.  Given the nature of some of the songs, like the unrepentant post-modern individualism of "Work In Progress/We Do It For The Money, Obviously":

My life is a constant work in progress/And I wouldn't have it any other way

Who are you to say what is real and what is fake
and who here matters anyway?
It's nothing that I haven't heard
We're all sellouts in your eyes, that's no surprise
Well, we never tried to disguise
Everything we want to be
But, honestly,
Who cares what you have to say?

More examples show in the next pair of tracks "Dead Men Tell No Tales/Mutiny!" in which they harpoon the music industry that had been trying to force them to compromise their creative vision:

I told you so doesn't do it for me anymore
(gang vocal) Our music we will shine

Take back your discipline now. This is a genuine revolt.
I am far from, so far from romanced.
There's too much business in this; I'm going back to my garage.
I have been completely disenchanted.
Turn my amp up to eleven; six nickel wound strings have saved me again.
Suits and ties are not to congregate in my sanctuary,
judged only by my hands.

(spoken) In this vast network of sharks and minnows,
where the minnows outnumber the sharks a million to one,
why is it that we have yet to converge?
To take on the upper hand?
Why have we been so scared?
Well not today, not anymore.
This is us growing up, still young, but no longer impressionable.
We have come to pillage!
We have come to burn!
We have come to incite the riot!
We have come to take it over!

In an interview with Scene Point Blank, Jordan Brown discussed the bands desire to express themselves freely through their music.  In regards to their song "An Old Book Misread," a song about their views on organized religion, Brown said, "We don't want to upset people with what we talk about on the album, but we want to discuss subjects that we feel are important."  This is an idea that carried over into their second full-length release, This Will Be The Death of Us, in songs like "Look Closer":

Plugged in, tuned out?
We all need to wake up 'cause we've been
Detached for too long.
We need to deprogram from
Shifting with the public eye.
We have a right to question why.
See through the lies,
Re-sensitize, and look closer.

And "Gaia Bleeds," speaking against man's destructive treatment of the environment:

Make way
A failed culture makes its mark existing only to destroy what came first
With no regard for creation, men play God, drop unstoppable bombs
All institutions are wrong, but none of them will ever stop!

This second album introduced a theme that was not touched upon in the first album, aside from the line "still young, but no longer impressionable."  A couple of the songs serve as reflections on the band's past and celebrations of their youth.  In the song "Summer Jam," they recount some of their tour stories and learning experiences they've had, celebrating their individual freedom of experience:

Even as we get older
We can do it all over.
Make our own plans and score the music to our own lives.
Looking into the future,
There is more room to move here.
Invincible as we score the music to our own lives.

My way has only got to work for me

In the song "The Fallen" they make their point of youthful exuberance a bit more directly:

Some stop feeling love for all the places they come from.
A person I will not become.
A jaded liar, unforgivable.

Some stop feeling love for every word that they once sung.

May I never lose my youth and If I do, may I be forgettable.

Here we see the validation declared for those that stay true to who they have been and where they have come from, a tenet long held in the punk and hardcore scenes; the perception of authenticity is a big deal.  Given the care taken by Set Your Goals to write about what matters to them, it isn't unreasonable to see such material pop up in a song, but it is somewhat uncharacteristic of them.

In the Scene Point Blank interview, Brown pointed out that the band wanted to steer away from the introverted lyrics of other bands, and while they succeed in steering away from songs about girls, they take a dip into songwriting territory that is all-too-familiar.  Songs about youth and summer tend to be a dime a dozen, particularly after the pop-punk wave of the early 2000s when bands like Good Charlotte and Simple Plan were pumping out songs like "Anthem" and "I'm Just A Kid."  Some fans today, including my friend that introduced me to Set Your Goals, had complaints about about these songs.

 I initially wrote off such complaints, as I was more concerned with the overall quality of the music.  But with the recent release of new songs from Set Your Goals' upcoming album, Burning At Both Ends, those sentiments seem a bit more substantial.  The first song that was released from the album, "Start The Reactor," makes them more clear:

It's just the way I feel
I wanna break things, I wanna break rules
I don't do this to fit in or feel cool
I do this because it's what I love
I always want to feel this young!
(Oh oh)
C'mon guys.

While this is only a single sample of what the new record holds, it is not a promising one.  Overall, this is another song about looking back as you get older while still clinging to your youth.  For a band that tends to present a forward-thinking, positive attitude, this seems to be a bit regressive.  They appear to be a little too eager to romanticize their youth while they are still living it.  It feels like a contradictory message - "We're really progressive and open-minded, but we don't like change!"  I may be jumping the gun on this one, though.  I cannot speak as to whether or not the overall message of Burning At Both Ends or the messages of the other individual songs on the album balance things out in a more mature fashion.  As this is the band's third full-length album, and their popularity is growing more and more, I would hope to see them display their personal growth more.  The album drops tomorrow, and hopefully soon after I'll have a verdict on that.

All lyrics taken from the Set Your Goals section on  All lyrics shown written by Jordan Brown and Matt Wilson.  All rights to the lyrics cited and the music associated with them belong to the member of Set Your Goals.