Say Anything

I Don't Think It Is

Written by: TL on 09/02/2016 13:53:24

Pulling the already tiresome 'Beyonce', Say Anything - aka. Max Bemis and whatever musicians he's working with at the moment - surprise released a seventh album under the title "I Don't Think It Is" this past Friday. Partly as a gesture to question the usefulness of the traditional lead-up with single releases and so on before an album release, the album appeared out of nowhere on the Say Anything website, followed closely by an interview on noisey where Bemix claimed inspiration from as vastly different sources as Kanye West and Jay-Z as well as The Hotelier. It also comes with an explanatory statement, crediting Darren King of Mutemath as the main collaborator this time around, alongside other contributors from more or less known bands, including Blood Brothers' Cody Votolato, At The Drive-In's Paul Hinojos and Tiny Moving Parts' Dylan Mathieson.

Long story short, the new Say Anything record is not just a record of songs, it is experimental and weird and you should check it out, if for no other reason, then because it features people from bands of considerable accomplishment.

OK then, but what it actually sounds like is a mess.

For those just catching up, the Say Anything moniker has mainly represented melodic yet extremely lyrically driven 'pop-punk', put between apostrophes because that is an approximation. For while the underlying melodic guitars and tempi have harked from pop-punk, the main attraction has always been the poetic weirdo Bemis, who aligns with the likes of indie rock's Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) or Aaron Weiss (MewithoutYou) in the way he self-consciously produces complex lyrics with more hints and connotations per minute than the casual listener can even keep up with in one go.

Cool, but compared to what a lot of Say Anything material sounds like, this new collaboration with King mainly stands apart by sounding more gritty and coated in unnecessarily artsy distortion. Opening track "Give A Damn" offers a plainly catchy and embittered chorus along the feels of a previous hit like "Hate Everyone", but the 'grungy', noisy quality of it makes it hard to make out the lyrics half the time. And while that in itself is perhaps a tip of the hat to the sound of various hip-hop and hardcore records that once impacted Bemis' listening habits, it is sort of a handicap for a 'band' that is ALL about lyrics. Who can even remember any Say Anything songs for the instrumental parts?

Bemis seems to subscribe increasingly to the idea that music should flow in free, stream of consciousness -like progressions, as opposed to in balanced compositions that emit a sense of synergy between instrumentation, vocal work and lyricism. Result? It feels like a 'kids in an old toy store' kind of production, with oh-so-wordy ranting on top. Apparently there's a red thread somewhere, as the record is also a concept record about Bemis' best friend 'Joshua', but listening through the twelve tracks feels far more fragmented than conceptual.

Things are closest to turning out in revisit-worthy fashion in "17 Coked Up Speeding" and especially in "Rum", as both these songs echo that sense of regretful melancholy that has been a strong point in much prior Say Anything material, and the swirling electronica of the latter actually feels like it gives the song a bit of a sense of identity. As you move into the centre of the record, however, all the vocal-chord-scraping sputtering in the world can't save itself from feeling repetitive, with neither instrumentation nor guest artists managing to contribute any fingerprints to help these songs make you really sit up in your chair.

Where good records make you want to listen again, to hear that good part again, and to maybe discover more like it, "I Don't Think It Is" rather wears increasingly on your patience each time you queue up a track, trying to find and connect the good bits that history has proven Bemis is capable off. It feels like a record which will mainly be perfect for people who like to map out the least successful records by an artist just because it makes them feel indier-than-thou - people who like to wax about 'rawness', 'improvisation' and 'authenticity'. Fans rather hoping for Bemis to take notes from either Kanye or The Hotelier, and orchestrate his talents in more engaging fashion, will be sorely disappointed. So good for Bemis that he's reached a point where he can pick and choose people to work with that inspire him, and good for him that Equal Vision seemingly trust him to do whatever the hell he wants. But it's all good and well to produce a work that is complex and challenging, but if it doesn't feel more inviting or at least rewarding, then it's in vain.


Download: Rum, #Blessed, 17 Coked Up Speeding, Attaboy
For The Fans Of: Weatherbox, Piebald, Bright Eyes, The Smith Street Band, MewithoutYou

Release date 05.02.2016
Equal Vision

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