Nostalgia is marketable, as every band that released an album in 2005 learned last year as they embarked on 10-year anniversary tours. But on Stories For Monday, The Summer Set’s fourth album, Brian Dales, the band’s primary lyricist, digs up the past for new material in a way that feels organic, necessary and most importantly – fresh.
After boldly declaring that all he wanted to be was “legendary” at the end of the band’s third album (appropriately titled Legendary) Dales’ vulnerable assessment of his own faults in Stories For Monday’s opening track, “Figure Me Out” is refreshing. He has come to the understanding that he’s not famous and he’s just making rent – something his high school classmates would not believe. “They think that I’m famous, when I know I’m a fraud; Who got too fucked up on the finer things to remember who he forgot”, he sings at the end of the first verse. The continuation of Stories For Monday is Dales doing just that – remembering who he forgot.
The next few tracks take Dales back to high school. “The Night Is Young” is a reflection on his homecoming king days and an assessment on his future place in the world. “When you’re looking back at 17, life is but a dream,” he sings. The following tracks – “Missin’ You” and “Jean Jacket” – tread on the awkward time period of feeling better about yourself without someone (a topic Dales had yet to explore, often opting for broken-hearted anthems instead) and the feeling of still finding that person in the little things you do, like putting on your old jean jacket.
“Change Your Mind” – a Bleachers-inspired track that could easily be placed into the dancing scene of The Breakfast Club had it been written 30 years earlier – is sonically, exactly what The Summer Set should have been doing this entire time. It’s a production move only an insider could make (enter, Stephen and John Gomez – the band’s bassist and guitarist, respectively, who produced the entire record) and one that takes Stories For Monday to a new height.
In what may be the rawest track on the record (second to “Figure Me Out”), “All In” explores where each band member is at this point in their life, and for the first time, gives the listener an insight into the fact that there was a foreseeable end to The Summer Set during the creation of this record. “We don’t know if we’ll be here again, so you know we’re going all in”, the band chants in unison. It was the mentality that loomed in each of their heads during this recording process, and it proved to be the most important element of the record.
“Wonder Years” also explores the idea that this musical adventure – the band’s weekend, if you will – may be ending. “Promise, you’ll remember”, Dales pleads in the song’s chorus. He describes himself as a “Sunday mess” – a subtle, but rather self-deprecating description of what 2015 was like for him. The song ends with the line “when the party ends”, and transitions into the album’s second to last track “When The Party Ends (Can’t Hardly Wait)”, which is the first time on the album that Dales appears comfortable with the idea of this chapter of his life coming to a close. Another 1980’s-inspired track, “When The Party Ends” channels the fear of not knowing what comes next, but knowing that it will all work out in the end. Despite its upbeat camouflage, “When The Party Ends” is the most depressing song on the album by far. But hey, everyone loves a good, sad song.
The record closes with “Wasted”, an anthem-like announcement that The Summer Set is proud of the last eight years of their lives and will embrace what comes next with high-heads. The song – very literally – takes the band back home: “We were right there in the desert; I was 17 years old” – a nice reminder of their Arizona roots. The song ends with the band laying down their instruments and shouting, “Turn the lights on, party’s over, maybe someday we’ll never get older”. The choice to let the album end on just vocals is clearly constructed, and symbolizes exactly what the band thought this record would be: their last words. Luckily for everyone, it was writing their last words that inspired them to keep going.
The decision to have the Gomez brothers produce Stories For Monday has proven its worth. The bandmates were able to express exactly what they needed without having to jump through the hoops of working with an outside producer. The result is the most defined, original and successful sound that The Summer Set has pursued to date. It’s ironic that one of the last lines Dales sings on Legendary is “I swear that I could be amazing, I just need a little help”, because to create their best body of work, all The Summer Set needed was each other.
by Catherine Powell