A Dire Setback's self-titled debut album, which was released on CDBaby yesterday! Recorded (at least partially) at Unsalted Audio, with production & mastering by Treble Charger's Bill Priddle and his Pointless bandmate Dustin Goodall, the recording sessions for this album took place between May 2018 & May 2019, and were intended to culminate in a postponed CD release concert yesterday, but in defiance of COVID-19, the guys did do a Facebook live-stream "concert" that we will look at on the site this week. "A Dire Setback" features the band's current three-piece lineup, including singer/guitarist Chris Nielsen, bassist/backing vocalist Matt Quinn, and drummer Nick Kainula. You can buy mp3 copies of the album on CDBaby for $9.99, and a free streaming copy hit Spotify this morning, but physical CD availability has not yet been announced.
CD copies are reportedly ready to go, but with the release party being scuttled, and local music stores that would carry it still being closed due to the coronavirus, it may be a while before you can buy CDs in town. If you want to inquire about physical copies beforehand, message A Dire Setback on Facebook. Featuring 9 songs running for about 34 minute, let's begin this review with the self-titled opening song! "A Dire Setback" leads off with a familiar guitar riff before the guys accurately shout "This is A Dire Setback!" and the song proper kicks into high gear. Compared to their live shows in the late 2010s, the clarity and mixing really accentuates this song off the hop, and Chris' melodic yet rough vocals really benefits, as do Matt's backing vocals. The guitar and bass mesh well here, and Nick' drumming is more than up to par! Honestly, the only fault I have is with the needlessly drawn out ending, but A.D.S. fans will have nothing to complain about here!
Second is "Everlasting" (formerly known as "Everlasting Despair"), which opens with Nick's steady drum track before his bandmates join in to this slower but still punk-infused live standard. Unlike the opener, this is a song that I feel lost something in translation compared to their concerts, with the song overall coming off as flatter and more melancholic. It's still a well composed song without major alterations, with solid guitar work and forceful drumming, but it just feels listless, especially after seeing it so often live. Next on the CD is "Kicking & Screaming", which will instantly be recognizable from the crowd response-encouraging chorus. This song injects the energy back into the proceedings with the in-your-face choruses and forceful verses from Chris and Matt, and everyone performs to their strengths, especially Nick's varied drum work. Again, the drawn out ending doesn't feel essential, and the vocals can drown out the guitar and bass a bit, but this song delivers the goods!
Song #4 is "Drop Dead", which will absolutely appeal to fans of the opening self-titled song, with it's fast skate punk-esque composition and Chris' strong melodic singing, which drives a lot of the song's melody and pacing, with Matt's nearly screamed backing vocals adding an extra punch leading into the choruses. The slow bridge with the building drums does feel tacked on to break up the rhythm, but the catchy vocals and strong punk flavour will win over listeners easy! Then we have the album's longest song, "Catastrophe", which gives Matt & Nick a nice showcase on bass and drums in the opening stretch before things fully kick into gear. This song is more reminiscent of "Everlasting" in overall tone, but it feels like it has more life and intensity, partially with Chris' purposeful chorus singing, with Matt matching it well in the background. Despite it's near 5 minute run-time, it never feels overly long (drawn out ending aside), and while I prefer their faster and more upbeat songs, this is a solid hit!
The sixth track is "Faded", which is also the album's shortest song. While not as instantly catchy as some of their earlier fast-and-aggressive originals, this well played and energetic song does seem like more of a platform for Chris to show off his vocal range, and he has definitely came into his own as frontman! The guitar riffs are strong, and Nick's drum work is particularly good here, but the song is almost too short, possibly because of the lack of a proper bridge. While it lasts though, it was a quality track! That's followed by "Forget This Memory", which has a steady punk-friendly structure that's well performed by all three guys, and the lyrics are well written from start to finish, but the vocals just don't have much life to them, almost as if they were meant for a slower/darker song, to a point where the chorus/bridge transition comes out of nowhere. The song proper is pretty good and lives up to the CD's standard, but the vocals (as performed here) don't match all that well to me.
The penultimate song is "Endless Dream", which opens oddly with pained backing vocals, but when the song proper begins, it delivers more of the alt-punk goods for fans, including another solid vocal-driven chorus that'd be very easy to sing along with if you know the words! Chris delivers well on the mic and guitar on this melodic, straightforward number, and Matt's bass lines fill out the low end very well, but there isn't a lot new to discover here, and again with drawn out feedback to close? Still, it's a late album highlight! "A Dire Setback" closes with "Nightmares", which abruptly begins with in-your-face vocals and guitar before the song proper kicks in, and I like the melodic structure and guitar riffing a lot, especially in the instrumental breaks! There are parts early where Chris' singing feels a little monotone compared to the music on offer, but his intensity ramps up in the back half, and here, the drawn out closing stretch actually feels essential to go with the title theme!
So, what are my final thoughts on A Dire Setback's debut album? Overall, this is a solidly composed and performed CD that existing fans and newcomers should easily take to! These songs showcase the guys in their element, playing high energy and mid-tempo punk rock with an alternative edge, and with strong production behind them, the songs mostly come through nicely in their final forms here! Chris Nielsen's vocals have definitely improved since his 2017 move to the lead mic, and he and Matt Quinn are a nice compliment singing and on guitar/bass, while Nick Kainula's proficient drumming kept the rhythm moving right along! Tracks like "Kicking & Screaming", "Faded", and "Endless Dream" are among my personal highlights, but there are parts that I would revisit. Too many songs have a drawn out ending segment that adds nothing to the composition, "Everlasting" didn't have any life to it in studio form, and there were times where vocals didn't quite match the song in tone