Review: Say Anything – Oliver Appropriate

When I first read the 10-page treatise on Say Anything’s demise (which I strongly suggest you do, as well), I was disappointed. I was disappointed, of course, that one of my favorite bands would no longer regularly make music, but I was also disappointed at the concept album slated to be their last. In reading Max Bemis’s thought process for the album, I was disappointed to see that this guy, who I had cheered for as he sobered up and became a family man, was artistically back where he started so many years ago.

You can buy or stream Oliver Appropriate on Apple Music.

According to Bemis, Oliver Appropriate is a sequel to …Is a Real Boy. So Max decides he’s metaphorically gonna get back into all of these insecurities and coping mechanisms that he covered way back in 2004. Oliver is Max, but not really. If you read what he wrote, it was super hard for him to get back into that mindset to create the character. He had effectively put that behind him with the rest of Say Anything’s albums. The ones where he talks about his wife, his experiences with Judaism, his struggles with family situations, and the political climate of the 2000’s. The authentic ones. That’s why I was so discouraged when I read about what we were in for. I wanted Say Anything’s final moves to be made of the same authenticity. Once I listened to it though, I realized it is authentic.

I don’t want to say that Max failed in his attempt to create the worst of the worst in punk rock, but he kind of did. Even though it’s under the guise of Oliver and about Oliver, Max is actually the name written all over this album. And even though I was originally disappointed with this direction, it was the direction I think I actually wanted all along. I think IARB had some loose ends that needed tying up. Some final thoughts on what the character’s lifestyle ended up turning him into. And, without a doubt, Oliver is the kid from IARB, just a little more grown up. He’s still just as deplorable, so much so that he ends up murdering the guy he’s supposedly “in love” with, as Max and Sherri sing in “The Hardest”.

Musically, the album is quintessential Say Anything. From “Daze”, where we get the definitive sound, to “Your Father”, where we get the scathing lyricism, Max held nothing back. There are all the expected features of friends and family, including Brianna Collins from Tigers Jaw. He says that this might not be the last Say Anything project, but it’s true enough to form, which makes me think this could be. And that’s fine with me, because his reasoning is that “[he] won’t put himself in harm’s way for anything now.” I’d way rather see someone I’ve been invested in be healthy than see them crumble.

The most telling point in the album comes at the very end of “Sediment”, with Max’s spoken word. If we take Max’s advice and treat Oliver Appropriate as the sequel to …Is a Real Boy, then it’s only right that it ends that way. What’s different here, and perhaps the most bittersweet as the Say Anything door closes for now, is the confidence that Max delivers this piece with. He sums up virtually every album the band has released in this short but moving conclusion. We’ve listened as he says, “It’s only a few lines, but I’m having anxiety about it” right up until the point where he’s so vulnerable that it seems like he’s crying when he says, “I’m viciously hungering for someone  / To love me the way my parents never did”.

We’ve essentially watched Max Bemis grow up through Say Anything and to have it end this way is something only he could do. Any other group can try to have their final (?) album echo their first, but it would sound cheesy and try-hard. Bemis has made his career this way so it’s not awkward — it’s expected. Say Anything has been a pillar of punk and emo since I can remember (admittedly not that long of a time, but still), and Oliver Appropriate is a fitting final chapter for them.

4.5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

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Reflecting On: Say Anything – In Defense of the Genre

In many ways, In Defense of the Genre is the absolute time capsule of pop punk in 2007. The sounds spanning the double album run the gamut of what was popular at the time while still managing to be, arguably, the most “Say Anything” record that exists. Guest vocals appear on over half the songs in unique, significant parts. In Defense of the Genre isn’t for everyone, especially on first listen, but it is an opus that celebrates and challenges the genre in every way.

You can buy In Defense of the Genre on iTunes.

After the success of …Is a Real Boy, Max Bemis faced what seemed an impossible task: topping himself. What he produced is a masterpiece of collaboration, experimentation and craft. In Defense of the Genre brought the outward, judgmental venom of “Admit It!!!” and cast it in every direction. To counterbalance this, Bemis also provided uncomfortably reflective and humbling lyrics of himself. The colorful poetry describing drug addiction, psychosis and coming to terms with indiscriminate anger is equal parts enthralling and sickening.

In Defense of the Genre is a dark album that reflects the time of its release. The golden era of the early 2000’s had faded and the few bands that still seemed to have any traction were heavier and brooding. Nearly everyone took a stab at experimentation, and while some succeeded, this era saw a massive drop off of bands that had been big just a couple years prior.

Rather than remake another punk record, Say Anything delved to see how depraved pop punk could be. The entire album is a blur of genre. Techno, dance, ragtime piano, grunge and pop seamlessly traipse between tempo changes that would kill a song by a lesser writer. Somehow, each sound manages to survive a solid coat of production and make a cohesive sound. In Defense of the Genre is as much a masterful dark pop album as it is the sound of madness itself.

The stories about Max Bemis prior to this album are legendary. Wandering the streets before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, mental hospitals, and drug abuse seemed to constantly filter in through the news sites for a while. In his writing, not only did Bemis not shy away from this, the entire album documents the process of finding himself in the midst of madness (“The Church Channel”) and crawling his way out (“Sorry, Dudes. My Bad.”)

While each song attempted something new, some of the true stand outs are the acoustic tracks. “An Insult to the Dead” is one of Say Anything’s most amazing songs. The wrangled guitar, the gentle tambourine and plinking piano, and Max’s voice, accompanied by the faint shout in the background during the chorus, create a haunted effect. More than anything, the heartbreak in Bemis’ voice as he sings, “Oh God, forgive me Moses, Jesus, Allah” is unparalleled.

One true highlight is the use of guest vocals. They’re expertly chosen and provide a snapshot of who was popular. What’s amazing is how many of them are still wildly relevant today. On top of that, their placement in songs reflects the guest’s own personality. Taking Back Sunday’s Adam Lazzara provides the evil voice of paranoia on “Surgically Removing the Tracking Device”. Paramore’s Hayley Williams is the defiant angel on his shoulder in “The Church Channel” that urges him to seek help (“You were forlorn in despair / With your drugs and your hardcore porn / Trust me, those days won’t be mourned”).

Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba provides a haunting melody in the background of “Retarded in Love”. Anthony Green is the voice of alcoholism (“Hangover Song”). Gerard Way appears in the title track, a song attempting to make sense of why musicians write. The song breaks into a momentary country western jamboree as Way sings, “I’ve got an empty wallet and a record cover”, reminding himself that the best art doesn’t guarantee reward.

Max Bemis never hid his adoration of Saves The Day. I remember hearing a rumor about how the band dropped off of a tour with Saves The Day, allegedly due to drug problems. “Sorry, Dudes. My Bad.” seems to address this directly. Max asks his bandmates for help, and swears that evil shouldn’t be in their tour van. Saves The Day’s Chris Conley appears after an interlude of people offering help. Hearing Bemis’ personal hero shout, “If you want it, then come and get it /We’re all with you now”, still gives me chills 10 years later.

In Defense of the Genre is a true artistic endeavor. It was a massive risk taken at the height of Say Anything’s popularity. It’s also the last ‘classic’ Say Anything record. After this, the band’s sound became poppier and Max’s struggles less dire. What should be a hot mess of a record manages to be a cohesive concept album that finds the sound of madness itself. It’s an album that truly deserves to be celebrated on its anniversary, even though it may not be to everyone’s liking.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is currently fighting the pesky Baratheon hordes! …..Or battling his cat to the death over small flakes of chicken.

Most Anticipated of 2016: #7 Say Anything Get Weird (Again)

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In Defense of the Genre

There are few bands who truly take the term “reinvention” to heart the way that Say Anything’s Max Bemis does. With an extremely loyal fanbase still hypnotized by …Is a Real Boy, Say Anything inspires a unique sound every record, even going so far as to remove all of his signature guitar work and replace it with synth and orchestral instruments on the fantastic Hebrews. It’s difficult to predict what type of album will be next, but it’s guaranteed to force the fans to argue where it ranks amongst the rest of them for the next year.

The other reason to be excited is that Max Bemis is extremely, and unapologetically honest in his songwriting. The lyrics are bittersweet and hopeful at best and horrifically brutal at worst. His storytelling is enchanting and finds themes that other bands skim the edges of, if not avoid altogether. Although Bemis has been much more positive for the last several years, it hasn’t impacted his ability to write engaging lyrics that hold the listener’s attention just as much as guitar solos.

Bemis is one of the most prolific writers in the scene, and has been since he caught the nation’s attention over a decade ago, and personifies the phrase “unafraid to experiment.” Each album feels fresh and tends to provide an update to past releases, making the entire discography relevant again.

If nothing else, the chance to read interviews with Max Bemis as he explains the new album, attempts to explain what it sounds like, and describes his mindset with it are almost as entertaining as the album itself.

BONUS:
There have been rumors for a long time that Two Tongues, the side project for members of Say Anything and Saves the Day (Yay Chris Conley!) would be releasing an album in 2015, spurred by a tweet from Max Bemis early last year. Unfortunately, Two Tongues didn’t materialize last year, but if work was underway on a new album, it may be the first new release from the band since 2009. Until concrete details are released, it’s not a good time to get one’s hopes up, but at least there is a good possibility that it will come sometime in the near future.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and takes any chance to have a conversation about Max Bemis and Say Anything at every opportunity.

Review: Say Anything – Hebrews

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Max Bemis has always been one of my guitar gods. The frantic solos and crushing melodies were what initially drew me into the band in the first place. When I heard that the band’s newest album, Hebrews, was made without any guitars, it left me with a single reaction: “WAT.”

Bemis has always been known for his eccentric tendencies and often quirky song writing, but there was something so off-putting about a rock band opting for a plethora of keyboards and orchestral instruments. To be completely honest, I was turned off to the idea and ultimately wasn’t excited for the album at all. What I didn’t expect was for Hebrews to be the album that Say Anything fans have been wanting since In Defense of the Genre, if not …Is A Real Boy.

What it lacks in the comfort of guitar rock, it more than makes up for in the intensity and storytelling of classic Say Anything song writing. For an album that sounds similar to a Ben Folds/Hellogoodbye hybrid, it’s easily one of Bemis’ best works, if not the album that is ultimately able to equal Is a Real Boy. It’s adventurous, intimate and cleverly orchestrated chaos. There are so many layers to these songs – each one demands multiple listens just to catch everything being thrown out there. Ironically, this is also the hardest record since IDotG.

While keyboards act as the primary instrument of the record (dueling with Bemis’ voice for lead), they never feel overdone or in the way. Bemis essentially destroys the instrument, banging viciously before gently pumping out a circus-styled melody and gentle sound. Constant synth is used in the background for added layering throughout several songs, similar to Hellogoodbye.

The real surprise is how effective the use of unconventional instrumentation affects the songs. The orchestration is subtle, but extraordinarily efficient. The faint grump of a tuba adds just the right layer of bass to supplement. Or a song like “Boyd”, easily the hardest and fastest song on the album, that uses a fiddle and violin where hardcore punk guitar chords would have normally been. In essence, the hardcore punk melody is there, but with a completely unique sound unlike most anything else I’ve ever heard.

Garron DuPree’s bass melodies are among the best of Say Anything’s discography. He’s a relentless musician and more than capable to stand toe-to-toe with Bemis’ nightmarishly demanding writing. It’s almost alarming how entrancing his bass lines are when they manage to crash into the forefront of the song. Where the keys take over normal guitar parts, DuPree’s bass keep the songs on course and give the punk edge expected of Say Anything. New recording drummer Reed Murray is able to match the quality that we all grew to love from Coby Linder with sleek precision and hard beats.

Arguably the most prominent instrument is Bemis himself, providing the best vocal performance since IDotG. His vocal range races from one end of the scale to the other, from gentle crooning (“Lost My Touch”) to guttural punk screams and growls (“Boyd”). The guest vocals for each song are very similar to IDotG, as each guest adds small segments to the songs, either just hidden in the background (Chris Conley in “John McClane”) or complete take over (Jeremy Bolm and Christie Dupree in “Lost My Touch”). For an album that features guest vocals on literally every song, each instance feels necessary and special.

Lyrically, this is the most intimate Bemis has been since Is a Real Boy, which is part of the magic that gave his initial songs so much gravity. They’re deeply personal, self-deprecating and funny. In many ways, Hebrews feels like the sequel to Is a Real Boy that we always wanted, as well as a continuation to the “story” concept from that album as well.

“Judas Decapitation” is more of a sequel to fan favorite “Admit It!!!” than “Admit It Again” was, as Bemis tears away at himself through the eyes of his own fans and their apparent waning support of his recent albums. He sings “I hate that dude now that he’s married / He’s got a baby on the way, poor Sherri…So he’s convinced it’s a manic delusion to know true love / Be 19 with a joint in hand, never change the band”.

In “Lost My Touch”, Bemis croons “Some say I’ve lost my touch at crafting Say Anything songs / I suppose I’ll let you take my place on stage; it’s not a difficult job to supplant, young one”, biting himself against the complaints of fans.

However, as hateful as he can be towards himself, Bemis still harbors the uniquely dark lyrics we expect from him in songs like “Six Six Six,” where he sings “I belong in jail but I lied my way to heaven with a wife who hasn’t learned that I’m Satan yet”, before breaking out into the chorus amid sweeping keyboards.

Hebrews isn’t just the new Say Anything album; it’s the quintessential Say Anything album, comparable to Is a Real Boy in how unique and important it is to the discography of this band. Each song is adventurously elaborate and surprising in how it makes up for the lack of rock’s primary instrument.

Bemis lifted any restrictions he’d had lyrically, rampaging through themes of inward reflection, family, the views of his own fan base and religion. For any band other than Say Anything, this would best be a side project. However, Hebrews is easily one of the best albums of the year, and hands down one of Max Bemis’ best works.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.