The Active Set-11
Record Label: Chisel Pixel Records
Release Date: November 11, 2011
11 is the debut album of Los Angeles four piece, The Active Set. The band, consisting of singer and bassist Matthew Stolarz, guitarists Wayne Russell and Francis Ramsden and drummer Michael Castro, deal in indie-pop tunes with a certain dance-ability factor. Sound familiar? I thought so. From the opening riff of "Let The Games Begin", The Active Set bring to mind what would happen if Bloc Party drank too much Red Bull. Every song is drenched in quirkiness and upbeat, catchy choruses and the album is built on the foundations of not taking yourself too seriously and is designed to make the listener do that awkward hipster dance. So, does it achieve its aims?
Well, awkward indie kid dancing certainly comes into play. The aforementioned starter ďLet The Games Beginí kicks off 11 with quirky guitars, hand claps and cheery lyrics. Upbeat, catchy and perfect commercial soundtrack material, it does the job in laying down The Active Setís mission statement. Stolarzís vocals are quite seductive and the instrumentation is technically flawless (both of these sentiments are true for the majority of the release), but the only problem with the song is the lyrics which are about everyone being unified together and universally happy which, to this cynical, hard-heartened reviewer, is a little too kitsch.
Next up, "Counting Out Your Life" is a bit too synthesizer-heavy, and whilst itís not a bad track, it is ultimately boring. "Best Summer Ever" is one of the best tracks off the release, itís catchy, features intelligent, somewhat wry lyricism and is quite original. It showcases Stolarzís talent, without over-doing the upbeat vibe. "Bedtime Stories" has the most catchy chorus of the release and has an almost child-like quality to it, which is quite a juxtaposition to the lyrics which are blatantly about sex.
"Sea Legs" is the most introverted track off 11, and is somewhat trudging, and makes the listener yearn for the earlier dance inspiring tunes. The next three songs, "Gas Wars", "Valley Born" and "Orchard" basically display the biggest problem that 11 is suffering from. Whilst the three of them are technically very different they all meld together, and are elementally forgettable. Theyíre not bad tracks, but they donít do anything thatís not been done already in the album.
"It Multiplies" is the strongest track off the release. The seductiveness of Stolarzís vocals is turned up to eleven, and the dark lyrics and instrumentation combine to make a brilliantly attractive track. The album closes with "Famous For Dying", a well shaped, straight up pop song, that could be a successful single. Itís catchy and is well worth repeat listens.
On a whole, 11 is a promising release. Vocally, itís flawless. Every song has a catchy element, and the lyrics display the odd moment of genius, but The Active Set has a lot to work on. The second half of the album has too many forgettable tracks, and 11 could have easily been trimmed down to create an excellent debut EP, but the problems it has encountered can be fixed with time.