Set Yourself On Fire


Arts & Crafts, 2004

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


It’s taken me months to work up to buying this album. Usually, there’s nothing I love more than a much-touted indie-pop release, but after listening to the album’s opener, “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead,” I was sure it would be impossible for the rest of the material to measure up.

But then, sometimes fate intervenes (fate, this time, being the combination of the latest My Chemical Romance album’s $20 pricetag and my desperation for new music).

Set Yourself On Fire begins with a stark, spoken epigram: “When there’s nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire,” then dissolves into the languid, mournful strings that set the tone for “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” and the album. With its lush instrumentation, vocal interplay between lead singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan and its hushed, aching refrain -- “Live through this and you won’t look back” -- it’s one of those tracks you can play a thousand times and never get tired of. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It perfectly segues into the title track, which layers synths and a waterfall of strings, mixing in Campbell’s clean, clear vocals as he skates over lines like “In a cancer ward the patients sit, waiting patiently to die / in an aeroplane high above the place you finally left behind” and the song’s refrain, “There is only one thing.” In the final few minutes, “Set Yourself On Fire” switches pace entirely, moving into a cold, quietly beautiful coda with Campbell repeating the line “Twenty years asleep before we sleep…forever” over dreamy, almost hypnotic piano chords.

The subsequent two tracks counter the post-breakup haze the album had set into: first, Millan takes the lead on the instantly catchy breakthrough hit “Ageless Beauty,” and then on “Reunion,” an ode to rekindled high school love with an endearingly hopeful chorus, she sings “All I want is one more chance to be young and wild and free.” Both are two of the album’s overarching gems, perfect slices of pop without ever being too sugary.

Overall, the main problem the album runs into is its fifty-seven minute runtime, which, in turn, causes the standout tracks to get bogged down near the end. Case in point: the stunning, slowly unfolding “The Big Fight,” featuring a languid, swirling groove, gets lost among the cloud of songs that could have been B-sides at best. The resoundingly average “The First Five Times” and the glaringly out of place “He Lied About Death” are among this crop, which serve to trip up the flow. 

But despite such slip-ups, what rings true after a few listens of Set Yourself On Fire is its resounding mood of quiet romanticism, which, though at times overblown, is always enjoyable enough to ultimately amount to far more than just your typical buzzed-about indie release.

Rating: B

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© 2006 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Arts & Crafts, and is used for informational purposes only.