I first heard of Set And Setting after Science of Silence announced signing them. The very same label that signed If These Trees Could Talk, who went on to release Red Forest, a post-rock masterpiece. So I thought to myself, these guys obviously have excellent taste. I checked out what I could of Set And Setting, which was a little EP from a 2012 US Tour, and it remains one of the most enigmatic EPs I've ever heard. It’s just standard post-rock, but there is something in the music that makes it unlike anything I've ever heard. I've heard unimpressive bands with two drummers. I've heard bands with brothers in them that downright suck. But not this and I still can't put my finger on why I love this EP so much.
I must have listened to that little EP a hundred times by the time Equanimity, their first full-length album, was released. That EP was simply overshadowed by the musical giant that is Equanimity. I have listened to it on every format available, and there is something special about that album. Something undeniable, yet intangible. It’s always on the tip of my tongue; I can practically feel it on my fingertips. The same unobtainable something that's eluding me from the very beginning. The blackened post-rock that has become so popular didn't feel like a gimmick at all with this Florida-based quintet, and the droning wasn't boring like many other drone pieces. Even the field recordings didn't feel forced, like most others are. But none of that makes Equanimity special. In my house, this album is regarded as perfect. None of us can find anything wrong with this album, but no one could specify what makes it so flawless.
When I started seeing updates from Set And Setting on Facebook or Twitter, my heart would leap for joy, and my head would tilt and frown ever so slightly. I'll finally have another Set And Setting album to enjoy thoroughly, but will it be as good as the others? What if they do something stupid like insert a banjo whenever they need an extra layer in their sound? (I'm looking at you, Lowercase Noises)
All of my anxiety disappeared, and all of my excitement burst forth as the first song played. Everything that made me love them was evident from the very start. The ambience. The effect pedals. The e-bow! It just soars like a bird, so beautiful. It builds in classic Set And Setting manner to the Black Metal blast beats we became so familiar with on Equanimity. It was like an explosion in a Michael Bay film. You knew it was coming, but it was still fiery.
I listened to A Vivid Memory from beginning to end without moving. No drinking from my cup of coffee, no interaction with the world around me whatsoever. It was still there. Undeniable and intangible. Maybe it was the chemistry of not having any lineup changes. Maybe it was the excitement of being on a new label. Whatever it was, it hadn't left the band and their sound.
If you are a fan of Equanimity, like I am, this won't necessarily be an improvement, but it most certainly is no worse. They still maintain a dramatic feeling without sounding cinematic at all, like most bands have become these days. It doesn't sound like a soundtrack to anything, just like a very well put together album. They still know exactly when to bring in the acoustic guitar, still know when to add strings. Nothing is out of place, and there isn't a single measure that lacks anything.
What frustrates me about this album is how I can hardly differentiate between this album and Equanimity or the Tour EP.
Two Drummers? Check.
Blistering tremolo guitar work? Check.
A bassist that's able to hold his end? Check.
There's just nothing here that makes it better than anything else. It's still an amazing album, but it just feels like Equanimity pt. II. Even the acoustic bits sound similar to those heard in Equanimity. I'm not complaining by any means. I’m a diehard fan to the end. But I can't tell you the difference between these albums outside of the release date. It's the essence of consistency, but it's the most beautiful consistency I've ever heard.
A Vivid Memory will most likely be my backup plan if I tire of their earlier work. Outside of that, I can't truthfully say that it's any better or worse than anything else they’ve released. For the time being, my heart is hopeful for the day I find out what it is that makes Set And Setting my favourite band, but my head will remain rather hopeful that I don't. The romance of the hunt will keep me enamoured, but the sobering reality will keep me grounded.