With the buzz of Say Anything’s Hebrews primarily revolving around the lack of guitar work in the traditionally rock-oriented entity, it should be a pleasant surprise to all that Max Bemis’ now under-publicized specialty remains intact: his writing. A song like “Falling Out Of Touch” features an artist accepting the musical “circle of life,” while marking both a refreshing display of self-awareness and an appreciation for the up-and-comers Bemis has been often known to support (see, The Hotelier). Meanwhile, album standout “Judas Decapitation” again has Bemis examining his place within the reworked scene — one he’s been involved in, but not in the Say Anything capacity for over two years — as he muses on falling out of favor through bright key work, “I hate that dude now that he’s married/He’s got a baby on the way, poor Sherrie.” That evolution amongst hipper crowds is accompanied by commentary on the band’s collective-like reputation, with the lines, “Recruits five, skinny, better looking men/To play guitar parts he’ll never play again.” And in a track like “My Greatest Fear Is Splendid,” Bemis exits the present circumstances, looking toward future worries to give us more of that Say Anything angst we’ve connected so much with throughout the past years. He sings of playing shows to an empty bar and losing Sherrie to Johnny Deep, who you’d have to imagine stands in for just about any suave, older man.
So while song streams often pointed to that musical difference, it’s important to note that Bemis’ writing is as strong as early Say Anything albums and presents a more cohesive experience than we’ve received in both the self-titled work and Anarchy, My Dear. But that’s of course only half the equation. That musical change was made, so does it work? While songs like “Boyd” and “Kall Me Kubrick” could have used those guitar blasts in their energetic presentation, the theatricality of the synth and string work assists, for the most part, in the storytelling aspect of the album. Look toward “Hebrews” for the most prominent and impressive example, as the intro both preps the listener for the vocal oddity to come, along with the very grand approach he takes to mass trauma and how it affects various races. The previously mentioned “Greatest Fear” is another track noticeably enhanced by the choice, with the first 2 minutes playing out more like musical theater than anything else. “Nibble Nibble,” meanwhile, utilizes near video game related sounds as a juxtaposition to very grim lyrical work, while the hook shows off Bemis’ ability to present a big sound without the traditional rock instruments.
Guest spots from Tom Delonge and Keith Buckley, the latter going with clean vocals, shine, but in the end, many of the appearances crowding the tracklisting are unfortunately minor and unnecessary. Why credit people like Matt Pryor and Chris Conley for “John McClane” if all they’re going to do is a bit of harmonizing? The same could go for the Campesinos duo, who aren’t given much to do on “Judas Decapitation.” In the end, his use of these spots isn’t quite what it was the last time he called on his friends with In Defense Of The Genre.
Speaking of “John McClane,” it’s surprising that such a chaotic album would begin with such a bore, as the inventive verse work is undone by a repetitive chorus. “Boyd” is another miss, as it covers musical ground already taken by “Kall Me Kubrick,” even if it does swap out a Dupree sister. And first single “Six Six Six” reaches for a multi-layered, rock opera type of experience, but falls a bit short.
As with Anarchy, My Dear (I’m one of the few that didn’t mind that album) Max Bemis’ work under the Say Anything banner remains ambitious, if slightly flawed. His writing is as strong as ever and longtime fans won’t really mind the musical switch, despite how much attention it’s received. The best thing you can say about Hebrews is that it’s interesting and many will find themselves returning to it on occasion. It’s more of great writing, though, than a great album.
The pressing sounds great for long stretches, beginning with the first three tracks. From “John McClane,” you immediately realize that Bemis’ vocals are going to be coming through clean and crisp and even vocals from Conley and Pryor are a little more discernible in the vinyl version. “Six Six Six” has a depth not present in the digital version, with the percussion towards the outro carrying a nice “boom.” And “Judas Decapitation” has tons going on, but the layers are balanced and it ends up being another nice experience. Then there’s moments like “Nibble Nibble” and “Boyd” where things just come across a little muddled. Percussion is buried and the multitude of layers that Bemis is trying to portray get tangled up in one another.
To end on a positive note (because I’m definitely on the above average side of this rating) “Hebrews” has that warmth vinyl enthusiasts describe with that string section, while “Lost My Touch” perfects its low end in those beginning keys. You can also really blast this sucker, with no distortion or issues as you crank the volume. You’ll just wish the really heavy moments were more sorted out.
The standard 2-panel jacket is pretty flimsy and had dinged up corners by the time it made its way to me. There is a nice lyric insert included, though, featuring every track and a note from Max Bemis on the back, regarding “who did what and whatnot.” The record itself came out on a few different variants, each with some connection to that unique cover art. A darker blue matches the rug hung over Bemis; a maroon with black marble matches the rug on the bottom and left side of the cover; and a beige fits the accents on the wallpaper. It’s a visually striking package, no matter your opinion on the gun-covered, religiously fueled artwork.
A digital download is included with your purchase, clocking in at 320 kbps. With three color variants and a test pressing bundle, Equal Vision didn’t just trot this out as a standard black pressing.
Say Anything’s latest full length effort, Hebrews, is more an example of Max Bemis’ impressive songwriting than anything else. The musical switch — nixing guitars this time around for a more theatrical vibe — works with the storytelling and is ambitious, even if the entirety of the album is just a hair above average. Equal Vision’s vinyl package features a nice sound, even if the large moments are a little muddled, while the packaging is the standard for a single LP set.
“Judas Decapitation,” “Hebrews,” & “Nibble Nibble”