Unhappy with their previous home at Wind Up, post-hardcore stalwarts Boy Sets Fire seem to be settled in more comfortably at Equal Vision based on the evidence of The Misery Index: Notes from the Plague Years. A message in the liner notes, however, admits that this 2006 release was written "under great duress" and crazy times that had the band feeling unloved and "utterly alone." Amid the confusion, though, the message ends on a hopeful note, leading one to believe -- even before listening to the album -- that Boy Sets Fire have chosen to make an album mainly for themselves (read: watch for experimentation), which fans will hopefully in turn also enjoy. They have built a career on provocative, emotionally charged music with political overtones. And while missing the consistent hardcore punch of earlier work, the band further develops its smooth, melodic sense (coupled with an innate aggressive nature) to satisfying results on The Misery Index. Overall, the album showcases their distinct recipe for success, but with a much more eclectic feeling than previously. Gentle to raucous to manic to soothing, Boy Sets Fire (and Nathan Gray's ever-impressive range) are all over the place from song to song -- and often within the same song -- which results in many individual tracks actually sounding like separate songs sewn together. The lead track, "Walk Astray," is thus perfect to aptly prep listeners for the album before them, as it begins on a soothing, acoustic note before propelling into a passionate outburst less than halfway through. Constantly choosing to confront stimulating topics in its lyrics, the band addresses topics like war, religion, government, and freedom, but somewhat surprisingly also throws in a career retrospective (" And Counting") and a song for broken hearts ("Falling Out Theme"). They have by no means gone soft, though, as the rousing "Requiem" asks "Why spend our lives on bended knee, choosing not to be free?," while "With Cold Eyes" questions religion in the face of the world's suffering. Religion is also targeted in "Deja Coup," which uses bouncy guitars and a horn section with unexpectedly good results, and makes the borderline effervescence of the song satirical in nature relative to the actual message confronting the born-again movement ("We'll make it squeaky clean, ignore the blood for now"). Piano and string arrangements are littered throughout songs like "Nostalgic for Guillotines" and the chaotic "So Long...Thanks for the Crutches," the latter also featuring agitated horns and a concluding electronic sample. The Misery Index demonstrates Boy Sets Fire -- on a new label and recovering from past frustration -- feeling things out a bit as they challenge themselves to further push their music ahead. To some extent, this development exhibits a few growing pains and the album plays a bit disjointedly. However, the fire the band lit in 1994 is still burning very bright and, with any luck, will not be extinguished anytime soon.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Corey Apar