Album Review: Record Setter – ‘I Owe You Nothing’
Posted: by The Editor
In many ways, Topshelf Records was the emo revival. Their early 2010s catalog hosted many of the bands that would come to define the various facets of the sound: You Blew It!, Pianos Become the Teeth, The World Is. They even put out comeback albums from classic ‘90s emo giants like Braid and The Jazz June. So Record Setter being signed to the label, however strange it may seem on their current roster, is something of a return to form.
Record Setter is, of course, an emo band. That doesn’t mean terribly much in 2020, particularly not with a band like Record Setter, for whom every new release has been something of a reinvention. Their debut LP, 2014’s Dim, was post-hardcore a la Hot Water Music. 2017’s stellar Purge was a bit less chaotic; songs had time to breathe and expand before collapsing into screamed bridges. The two songs they contributed to a split with Sylvania Ave. and Genius Christ last year were their most melodic yet – it seemed the band was softening up with each successive release.
I Owe You Nothing completely reverses that trend. It is an out-and-out screamo record, no questions asked. It begins with a bang – “Someplace” immediately answers any questions as to how heavy I Owe You Nothing will be. “How long have I been standing just staring at the floor?” shrieks Judy Mitchell, “How long was that door open? I never noticed it before.” At that last line, the band drops out, Mitchell’s voice nearly cracking on “before.” The band takes off at breakneck speed after that, Mitchell’s howls barely keeping up, and they never let up from there. “Someplace” flows directly into “Sometimes,” as nearly all the songs on I Owe You Nothing do; it’s a form-mirrors-content of Mitchell’s explanation of the record’s theme: “telling your story honestly and demonstrating people are a whole person.” It makes the album a true listen-in-full type deal; songs stop and start back up without warning and flow into the next without breaks.
“Sometimes” opens with a peppy math riff that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Gulfer song. Then forty seconds in, the song grinds to a halt and Mitchell croons, “I’m not emotive enough.” It feels like a wink at the listener, as her singing is soon overtaken again by screaming as the song crescendos. The rare moments of respite that do come – that moment, “Present Tense” (for the most part), “Future Tense,” the final seconds of the record – are all the more powerful for their infrequency. “Future Tense,” one of the record’s three pre-release singles, is a particular highlight; as much as Record Setter is a heavy band, when they slow things down the result is beautiful. It’s a spacey, hypnotic song that demonstrates that the band really does know when to hold back; just when the song begins to build and seems like it might explode, it grinds to a halt and turns to a soft drone that flows straight into pummeling closer “Fail and Fall.”
Taken in aggregate – and again I Owe You Nothing really is the sort of album that begs to be played in full – the record is a masterclass in aggressive emo; there’s been no shortage of incredible screamo or post-hadcore albums in 2020, but this one stands among the best of them. It’s a worthy debut effort on Topshelf, and it suggests that one day, maybe not too far down the line, Record Setter will be mentioned in the same breath as some of the other classics the label has put out.
Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great /Phenomenal
Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison
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