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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Music Review: Say Anything - "Hebrews"

Say Anything "Hebrews" out now!
Six albums in, and one thing is certain, Max Bemis chooses his words carefully. The title of Say Anything’s 6th studio album, “Hebrews,” might seem like an artist getting in touch with his Jewish cultural and spiritual roots, but that would be too simplistic for the irony-laden tongue of the band’s front man. But what is he trying to say with “Hebrews,” a term that in America, can be considered derogatory toward modern-Jews, who don’t necessarily accept it as the common ethnonym? 

Couple that title with the album’s cover art of Bemis cartoonishly drawn as a Hasidic Jew surrounded by assault rifles and bazookas, it seems like he is declaring war against Judaism from within, or at least, within himself. This wouldn’t be the first time, either, that he has struggled with his religion, or religion, in general, among other things.  Yet, this definitely marks the first time that Bemis has approached these heavy themes and topics with such maturity.

Echoing the self-loathing and cynicism of their debut album “…Is a Real Boy,” Bemis reaches into the same arsenal of acerbic alienation to continue his onslaught against society, religion, and the many institutions that he considers broken. Yet, with every witty lyric admonishing the aforementioned establishments, he doesn’t shy away from turning the microscope back on himself and how that’s the biggest hurdle to overcome.

It wouldn’t be a Say Anything album otherwise.  But what separates “Hebrews” from previous efforts is the authenticity of the lyrics that haven’t been heard since their proper second album, “In Defense of the Genre.”

Songs like “John McClane,” “Judas Decapitation,” and “My Greatest Fear is Splendid,” all continue to explore Bemis’s growing apathy and building fear of complacency and insignificance, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his self-deprecating dossier.

Bemis imbues lines like “The truth is one day you will be greater than I, the truth is one day I will be eclipsed” or “I invite you to dethrone me, you’ve had enough of me,” with a sarcastic sincerity that sounds like he’s resigning to something greater than himself or just not caring what anyone thinks of him or his band anymore. 

Fueled with kinetic gang vocals, reminiscent of “Alive with the Glory of Love” and the welcomed angelic voice of Bemis’ wife Sherri Dupree among a slew of other guest vocals (Saves the Day’s Chris Conley, Los Campesinos’ Gareth and Kim, Get-Up Kids’ Matt Pryor, Blink 182’s Tom Delonge, etc), “Hebrews” is a call back to the Say Anything of yore but with the promise of something new…something new like zero guitars (at least for this album).

Known for their scathing guitars, you would think that this missing element would be a deal breaker, but it hardly makes you flinch.

With a musical arrangement that consist of live strings, keys, and percussion, it’s hard to fathom that this album has not one single guitar present, but the orchestration more then compensates and rocks as hard, if not harder, than any of their previous efforts. While such ambitious musical arrangements make it harder to duplicate live on stage, it will be glorious to watch and hear when Bemis and Co. manage to herd an orchestra onto their tour.  With so many unique guest vocals, it will be a shame that so many artists won’t be able to reprise their role on tour, save for his wife, Sherri Dupree-Bemis, but it will definitely leave room for on-the-road surprises.

Overall, Max Bemis seems to relish in the creative freedom of solely holding the reigns of Say Anything and the music is better for it.  Say Anything is back to form with “Hebrews.”  Listen to the album loud on quality speakers or with headphones, whether on CD or vinyl to do the mixing any justice and to bring out that angst-filled former self.

Score: 9 out of 10 Angst-Filled Rebel Yells

Marco A. Elorreaga also writes for SoundStageDirect, his first choice for all vinyl records and vinyl accessories.

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