Showing posts with label say anything. Show all posts
Showing posts with label say anything. Show all posts

Monday, June 16, 2014

video review: 'hebrews' by say anything

Believe it or not, this album took a lot of effort to decode and figure out. In the end, mostly ambivalent on it, but there were pieces that worked.

And now... ugh, let's get Linkin Park and Lana Del Rey over with. This is going to piss so many people off... but until then, stay tuned!

album review: 'hebrews' by say anything

About a year ago, just about a month before I converted my blog to videos, I took a request to do a retrospective review of In Defense Of The Genre by Say Anything. Widely heralded as one of the strongest emo bands to break in the 2000s, Say Anything rode the tremendous success of ...Is A Real Boy into their 2007 release, an overloaded, messy, and thoroughly interesting record co-opting every variant and subgenre of emo music popular at the time and throwing it in our faces. It was ambitious, swollen with collaborators, and while I'd argue it didn't really work as a cohesive whole, it was still compelling and definitely worth a listen.

But ever since that one-two punch from the mid-2000s, I've had the frustrating feeling that Say Anything might be falling into a holding pattern, The band has long ago stopped being a traditional punk act, to the point where their 2012 release Anarchy, My Dear felt distinctly underwhelming as the band attempted to recreate the visceral emotions that fueled ...Is A Real Boy to very mixed results. And when I heard that Say Anything was following it up with another collaborator-overloaded album this year titled Hebrews, I had to restrain my desire to groan with exasperation. Unlike some fans, I didn't hate Anarchy, My Dear, but my issue was that it felt distinctly neutered and lacking in dramatic force compared to Say Anything's best work, especially considering that they were trying to make a punk record and yet sounded more tame and reserved than ever before.

And when I heard that not only was Hebrews going to be filled with collaborators, but that there would also be no guitars on the album, with the melody lines entirely replaced by strings arrangements and keyboards... well, I'm in favour of bands experimenting, so out of sheer curiosity, I took a look at the album. Was it as bad as I feared?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

album review: 'in defense of the genre' by say anything (RETRO REVIEW)

I have to be honest, it's not often I do real 'retro reviews', and there's a very good reason for that. As much as I could go on and on about certain acts and how much I like their material, I feel that without the appropriate context/situation, there's isn't much of a point for me to talk about these acts. It'd be rather self-indulgent, and while I don't exactly have a huge problem with that, I'd prefer to actually talk about something that is relevant to the conversation today.

Now that's not saying I won't do retrospective reviews - far from it, actually. In fact, I think I can definitively nail down three reasons why I would do a retro review of an album or a movie: it relates to a current subject in a direct manner that allows me to fuse the review with an essay; it's something I didn't get a chance to cover earlier in the year and I want to cover it so I'm prepared when year-end rolls around; and finally, on request (and even then it's iffy, because there are some acts I will refuse to touch on principle).

And even with that, I haven't written that many retrospective reviews. There were the Nolan-Batman retrospectives (here and here), the reviews of James Blake and Tegan & Sara earlier this year (the latter of which I remember most for my essay on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope), and the two reviews I've written on request: that of Avenged Sevenfold's self-titled album and that of an album by The Beards. Completely unsurprisingly, the two albums I reviewed on request were not even close to good, which makes sense in a twisted sort of way. After all, the Internet likes to give critics shit to review so we can fly into highly entertaining rages.

I want you all to understand that to clarify that when I got the request to review In Defense of the Genre, the collaborator-studded album by Say Anything, I stepped in with high hopes but extremely low expectations. As a band with no real pop success to speak of - albeit some measure of critical acclaim, but that can mean anything these days - I had actually never heard any of this band's material before beginning this review. Keep in mind that when I started listening to the pop-punk and emo music of the 2000s, I jumped onto the bandwagon in 2007, which was in the peak of mainstream success but not critical acclaim (as I've said before, I spent the majority of the mid-2000s listening to power and symphonic metal). I might have been listening to Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco and the occasional MCR or Jimmy Eat World track, but I certainly wasn't familiar with the more underground segments of the genre, so I was very unfamiliar with Say Anything. So as usual, I opted to examine the albums leading up to In Defense Of The Genre so I might have an idea about what Say Anything was like. What I did I think?

Well, I have mixed feelings. Say Anything burst into the indie scene with Baseball, an album that the band has never really been proud of and have refused to play tracks from for a long time. On the one hand, I definitely understand why: if we're looking for albums that embodied the teenage emo aesthetic, Baseball would immediately jump to the top of that list. With the haphazard production, sloppy but occasionally excellent guitar work, and raw anger and petulance in Max Bemis' vocals, Baseball would be indistinguishable from a dozen other emo bands of the time, but what impressed me was the genuine emotion in Bemis' delivery and the sharper-than-average songwriting. The band had a certain degree of wit around them that I can definitely see elevated them over their peers - within their genre, of course. And that's where the biggest problem with Baseball comes up - it's painfully high school when it comes to subject matter, filled with all of the associated drama from that period. And while I definitely can see why disaffected teenagers would love the raw, unbridled anger in Say Anything, anyone with an ounce of perspective would find Baseball more than a little juvenile. 

But on the other hand, I will give credit where it's due - Say Anything definitely captured that spirit with their opening album, and while the band might have lacked nuance, they made up for it with passion. So unsurprisingly, they got signed and released their second album ...Is A Real Boy, which managed the impossible: not only did the band preserve their sound and wit, they actually got better. In fact, ...Is A Real Boy really nailed down in my mind what Say Anything did well, namely they fused intelligently biting lyrics with real passion. I'm not reminded of any of the traditional L.A. emo bands but instead of The Barenaked Ladies, both in the acrid dark humour of the lyrics and the simplistic yet extraordinarily catchy melodies (plus, they reference Nick Cave multiple times, which is automatic bonus points from me). 

But what I find most fascinating about ...Is A Real Boy is the theme - while Say Anything could have chosen to focus inwardly about Max Bemis' own neuroses (and he did have them, as he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, actively abused drugs, and was eventually checked into a mental institution), they instead directed their attentions at their genre. Of course, they were an emo band so most of the songs were written from the perspective of the band, but they still had a much stronger tendency to focus outwardly. In short, much of their material was targeted at the music industry and the toxic culture surrounding it, and they had the smart songwriting to disguise their words behind some surprisingly intricate metaphors. And when they weren't attacking the industry, they were writing very literate, occasionally high-concept material like 'Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat' (one of the major highlights of the album, a nuanced discussion of human complacency), 'Every Man Has A Molly' (the nasty aftermath of airing dirty laundry through music - take notes, Taylor Swift), 'I Want To Know Your Plans' (probably the closest thing to an honest love song Say Anything ever wrote), and 'Admit It!!!' (my other favourite track, a brutally articulate spoken-word-filled diatribe against hipsters that's eons harsher than anything I will ever write).

So it isn't surprising in the slightest is that Say Anything very quickly built some major artistic clout in the industry, particularly around the L.A. emo scene, and combined with Bemis' growing reputation as a mad genius, it's not a surprise he managed to rope in twenty-three guest vocalists for his newest project and the topic of my review today. In Bemis' own words, the album had a twofold purpose: an autobiographical exploration of his mental breakdown and recovery; and a tribute to the other emo bands and genre Say Anything liked. Do they succeed?