Album Review: Say Anything – “Hebrews”

How could a Say Anything record without guitars be memorable? Well, if you felt that Hebrews would be devoid of aggression and punk-attitude, then you clearly don’t know the vocal range of Max Bemis! Sure, it’s different but it isn’t sub-par. Bemis takes the band for a wild ride that covers a plethora of issues while he examines his present and his past, leaving room for a hefty experimental future, music-wise.

There’s a huge contradiction between the music and the vocals that provide a chaotic feeling on the record. The latter accurately represents the confusion Bemis feels within the lyrics so there’s no argument there, especially with the polarized turn on quite a few songs to a neat melodic lull. Poetic yet chaotic, punk yet indie-pop. I think those who compare past albums to newer ones will always be disappointed though. Albums capture musical moments in a person’s ever-changing life. To expect consistency in those as quaint as Max Bemis, seems idealistic. That’s what tracks like “Six Six Six” and “Boyd” offer – a poem on transition and life. The former’s a synth-heavy, organ-licking piece of pop magic while the latter is more angry and personal. An orchestral record is risque but Bemis makes it work, a la his own solo effort.

Bits of it are all over the place, but I think that’s what piques interest: the complexity and the way he fashions it making it still vocally primed for a punk record. “A Look” conforms to an 80’s sound with a big Eisley/Braid/Hey Mercedes influence on it and again, without spoiling the guest cast, it’s a lot to take in as it shows how much Say Anything wanted to toy with contemporary rock. Throw in “Nibble Nibble” which has Tom DeLonge helping build a video-game meets punk sound and you’ll understand and appreciate why this record is as fun and good as it is fearless. “Lost My Touch” best represents Hebrews at the album’s end, with a tempered keyboard pop fizz that barrels into Jeremy Bolm’s angry and angsty loudness. It’s that kind of latitude and contradiction that gives the record a flow and a great one at that.

Bemis talks about past afflictions and finding stability in life. That in itself gives a lot of meat to Hebrews but it’s the musical variety that makes it even more compelling. It’s not typical of Say Anything but at the same time, it’s conventional in that it sticks to their brand of narrative. Themes of acceptance and life coming full-circle are the major drawing points here and Bemis really reams into the listener with his words. If you think they lost their edge, think again. Like I said, it’s different but in a good way. The strings, keyboards, eccentric arrangements and a brilliant guest vocal-cast are elements that beef up Hebrews‘ value. It’s an album that tells a story of torture – a beautiful torture. Recommended.

4 / 5 Stars

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