Review:: Hebrews | Say Anything

With each passing album that Say Anything pens, I tend to pensively dip a toe before diving right in. It’s nothing against the artists or the music, but more of a personal reason. Before I even press play, I can be certain that it will be something new. And before jumping into the deep end of my conclusions or opinions, testing the waters is much safer.

So, here we arrive at Hebrews. Putting all of the talking aside, not getting buried beneath repetitive mentions reminding “but there aren’t any guitars!,” Hebrews holds tight onto the grit and chaos a Say Anything fan craves.

Sure, the lack of guitars is a very aggressive decision, but creatively, it’s enjoyable.

Their absence is something that, while noticeable, isn’t entirely distracting. In their place, supportive orchestral pieces give a feeling, somehow, of both order and disarray. On paper, it’s odd, but it works when you hear it and, more often than not, isn’t noticed until pointed out (“Judas Decapitation,” “Six Six Six,” and the extensive introduction to the title track being prime examples).

Bemis’ self-deprecation is sharp and focused at countless moments here, but most is taken with some semblance of tongue-in-cheek thanks to his delivery and clever lyricism. His ability to write darkly while delivering lightly has always put Bemis in a select category, and Hebrews is no exception. “Six Six Six” is an introspective look at religious and personal relationships, calling himself “just a strung-out, overweight Jewish guy” after submitting “I belong in jail, but I lied my way to heaven, with a wife who hasn’t learned that I’m Satan yet.” Later, on the plucky and playful “My Biggest Fear is Splendid,” Keith Buckley helps Bemis inventory his long list of neuroses and anxieties while still sounding cheery.

“Lost My Touch” lies at a median between love and self-loathing. Set as a mild piano ballad, Bemis offers up his role to those who “are twice as insightful and half his age” and tell him he “has lost his touch writing Say Anything songs.” Despite knowing he’ll “one day be eclipsed,” he still gets a warm smile from it, knowing he “lived and bled for this.” With help from a Christie DuPree/Jeremy Bolm harmony, the song eases away with “I never say ‘washed up’ as I prefer to say ‘washed over,’ because you can drown in love of yesterdays.”

On the other side of the median, “The Shape of Love to Come” is a gloomy synthpop duet with wife Sherri DuPree. An indisputable standout, the pair’s chemistry rings through each second and note of the track, which happens to clock-in as the album’s lengthiest.

Now, I could go on for hours about the bits of Razia’s Shadow I hear throughout Hebrews or the comparisons I could make between the two. Firstly, there’s the departure from “typical” form – Razia as a musical, Hebrews as a guest-filled cabaret more or less. Second, the ambitious orchestration leads to a lack of guitars, with strings filling their vacant slot. And then there’s the cast: Bemis’ vocals are at-times reminiscent of his previous arachnidan role, while Chris Conley and Aaron Weiss (whose inclusion again leans more towards spoken narration rather than singing) each loan their own bit of vocals. But like I said, you probably shouldn’t get me started on that one.

Anyway, back on track. Bluntly, Hebrews is a leap of faith. Bemis has spent the better part of a decade progressing and maturing, and the songwriting and decision-making processes here are great indicators of where he is in regards to those. An album from a rookie songwriter taken in this direction would be marked as ambitious and wild, then perhaps given its dues and tucked away. Though, for someone with the status and reputation such as Max Bemis’, it’s [most of] those things and more. It’s, from my perspective, a message to fans, to critics, to himself and the world alike; he is aware of both who and where he is, he knew what he was capable of (or, maybe he didn’t), and he saw an opportunity for something exceptional. All of this is purely speculative, but one thing is unquestionable – the end result deserves our applause.

Check Out: “Six Six Six,” “The Shape of Love to Come,” “Judas Decapitation”

Release Date: June 10th, 2014
Rating: 4.25/5
Runtime: 46:36

1. “John McClane” featuring Chris Conley and Matt Pryor
2. “Six Six Six” featuring Sherri DuPree-Bemis, Andy Hull and Jon Simmons
3. “Judas Decapitation” featuring Gareth and Kim Campesinos
4. “Kall Me Kubrick” featuring Chauntelle DuPree-D’Agostino
5. “My Greatest Fear Is Splendid” featuring Keith Buckley
6. “Hebrews” featuring Brian Sella
7. “Push” featuring Aaron Weiss
8. “The Shape of Love to Come” featuring Sherri DuPree-Bemis
9. “Boyd” featuring Sherri DuPree-Bemis
10. “A Look” featuring Stacy King and Bob Nanna
11. “Lost My Touch” featuring Christie DuPree and Jeremy Bolm
12. “Nibble Nibble” featuring Tom DeLonge and Sherri DuPree-Bemis

Written by Eric Riley

Review: Wrist Slitter | Matt Pryor

Matt Pryor’s sabbatical (of sorts) from music in 2012 was an interesting and introspective move on his behalf. After nearly two decades of writing and touring, an exhausted Pryor decided to hang it up and focus on his family.

But that didn’t last long. (I don’t mean the family part. I’m sure the dude is still a hell of a dad.)

After a few months of working on a friend’s farm, Pryor re-recognized his calling and went back to the drawing board and returned with some material that would eventually become part of his latest full-length, Wrist Slitter. Don’t let its briefness fool you – while it clocks in under thirty minutes, with only two songs breaking the three-minute mark (one of which barely doing so), Pryor showcases an immense amount of dark, honest spirit.

The introductory “The House Hears Everything” starts off with 1920’s-silent-film-soundtrack-esque static before sharply dropping into the racing second half of the song. The album’s first single, “Kinda Go to Pieces,” quickly dissolves the muffled noise at the start of the track, erasing the fuzziness with shredding electric guitars.

Enlisting the help of some friends, including Saves the Day’s Chris Conley and Braid’s Bob Nanna on “Before My Tongue Becomes a Sword” and Steve Soboslai of Punchline on “Words Get in the Way,” Pryor’s tracks gain some extra “oomph.”

The bluegrassy sprint that is the title track and the somber “As Perfect As We’ll Ever Be” offer a slower side to the record, lowering the tempo as Pryor gently croons through his “darker places,” while the playful “Foolish Kids” and the calm “There Is No Us” offer a more casual taste, swapping electric guitars and racing drums for relaxed strums.

When Matt Pryor took some time off, nobody was really sure what would come from it. And I think that includes Matt Pryor, too. For Wrist Slitter, he reveals that “this is who I am, and this is what I do. I just had to go off the deep end and try other stuff in order to figure it out.” If this album is him figuring things out, then he has much more success with living in the deep end than most of us would.

Release Date: November 11th, 2013
Rating: 3.75/5
Runtime: 28:46

1. The House Hears Everything
2. Kinda Go to Pieces
3. Wrist Slitter
4. Words Get in the Way (w/ Steve Soboslai)
5. Before My Tongue Becomes a Sword (w/ Bob Nanna and Chris
6. If I Wear a Disguise
7. As Perfect As We’ll Ever Be
8. Foolish Kids
9. Say What You’re Gonna Say
10. So Many Questions
11. There Is No Us
12. Won’t Speak to Me

Written By: Eric Riley