Say Anything are a band who, at this point, can easily be described as ‘classic’, yet they continue to put out music that shows they are still growing and learning and trying new things. Between the band’s last studio album release (2012’s Anarchy, My Dear) and the release of Hebrews, it’s fair to say that frontman Max Bemis has gone through his share of life changes. The biggest of which is becoming a father. It’s safe to say many assumed this would make the upcoming record take a softer turn, however it has since been revealed that Bemis had been battling his well documented demons again, presenting his fights in the form of Hebrews.
‘John McClane’ opens the record and also offers the first two, of sixteen, guest vocalists in the form of Chris Conley and Matt Pryor. The track is a gentle, tropical breeze of a dichotomy next to Bemis’s harsh vocals, with a MIDI harp solo echoing the signature guitar solos of Say Anything. It’s a great opening for the album, although it feels as the guest vocalists, who are also two key figures of the genre, are underutilised. But while ‘John McClane’ is a track that floats, ‘Six Six Six’ instantly shoves the record into another gear with Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull contributing alongside the worrying vocals that really push home the scary mindset Max experienced.
‘Judas Decapitation’ begins by utilising another Say Anything quintessential: spoken word. The track uses a lot of production but still comes out the other side sounding true to the band. It is, however, easy to see how some could see the production as excessive and actually hindering the potential of the track. Despite the split opinion on the song, there’s no doubting its catchiness, and it will easily be a live favourite in the upcoming US tour.
Songs like ‘Kall me Kubrick’ prove that the unsure response to the band announcing there will be no guitars on the record had nothing to worry about. In fact, the way orchestral instruments have been used in lieu of the usual electric guitar is pretty fucking cool. Lyrics like “This song makes me feel like I’ve had a smidgen too much tequila/ You’re really not supposed to chase poison with four full on Red Bulls” is signature Bemis at his rock-bottom finest. This is also the point you begin to realise it’s one of those records where every time you listen, something new will pop up for you to obsess over.
‘My Greatest Fear Is Splendid’ is a straight up cheesy track with brilliant, scathing lyrics to hiss along with while you bop your head side to side. The split between the sound and the lyrics slowly gets less as the music gets more manic, as does Bemis, melding together before guest vocalist Keith Buckley has his input. The track is set apart from the others on the record so far with the sudden change in sound, making it a memorable one.
‘Push’ leads you on a slow and steady rise that dips and drops before the inevitable crescendo, which is Max screaming “Push!” over and over. The track is not heavy, so to speak, but leaves you feeling frantic with it’s continuous build and the manic rushing of lyrics mixed with heavenly choir vocals at one point. Compared with tracks like ‘Boyd’, named after Bemis’s father-in-law and presenting itself as a post-hardcore orchestral song, ‘Push’ really stands out in it’s own individual light.
The album closes with ‘Nibble Nibble’, featuring Tom Delonge and Max’s own wife Sherri. The voices are a strange mix; while the Bemis’s together are a familiar sound, what with their own band Perma, it’s almost confusing having Delonge in that mix. The track itself seems a strange choice to close the record with, what with Say Anything having a penchant for big endings with previous records (‘Plea’, ‘Admit It’, ‘Ahhh… Men’) but choosing one of the quieter tracks on a grand album.
Hebrews is a definite grower of a record, with the new directions and choices that have been made for the band having the potential to throw some people off at first. But, with just a couple more listens, it’s quickly become an album that’s stuck on repeat for the On Record team. It’s one of those records where people will look back in a few years and praise the band for being so brave to throw out what they knew was tried and true for them in the names of teaching themselves more about music. In that process, a couple of tracks have been a bit hit and miss, as is to be expected, but overall, it’s a hell of an effort and we hope it goes far.
Hebrews is available on 16th June in the UK via iTunes.