Max Bemis wants to shake the order of things up with Say Anything. That's pretty obvious. He's not doing it for the sake of doing it though – he has a definitive objective. As far as Hebrews goes, it seems that this aim is an extension of his life now – shoring up the olden days as he gets older, wiser and more settled. But in doing so, it's about still carrying threads from a turbulent past amid recognizing this inevitable change. While many would be quick to write off a Say Anything record without guitars (which comes off here as more an experimental Bemis batch than anything), as something that's nowhere close to punk–rock, I'd ask you to think again because somehow, Bemis channels the record into punk territory. Not all of it but a larger portion than expected. Evidently, it's his anger and his responses to the cynics, critics and those who are labeling him as "non–edgy" and "irrelevant" that give him the fuel he needed to make Hebrews spark.
The variety of prevailing themes on tap range from his own neuroses and checkered past to things like religion, family, maturity and of course, love. He keeps the punk aggression through his vocals, which are sometimes raspy and sometimes throaty but give the tortured and angular sound needed to help remind us that he's still part–punk. The segments of the album thin on punk swim in a more indie–pop realm and it's no shocker that his Eisley affiliations pop up at these points, whether it's on the engineering or execution side of things. "John McClane" is a twinkly, keyboard fueled example of this courtesy of Matt Pryor and Chris Conley. These poppy, melodic jabs take some time to get used to as there's a threadbare feel to them but they sink in neatly in time. The array of guest vocalists is another big selling point and honestly, it's a lot to list but they balance out Bemis' vision well. From the soothing and relaxed Andy Hull to the gravely Jeremy Bolm, it's all about the polarized things that Bemis chalks up as poetry and metaphors. His own vocals are on point and his expressions are really anything but subtle, which is a nice attraction, as usual. That's where this record shines –– playing off his strengths as a lyricist and vocalist as opposed to the instrumental side of things. The song structures are mostly inconsistent with odd rhythm changes and mood swings but somehow, he manages to make the string and key arrangements work, as incoherent as they get. It's a tad chaotic but matches up to Bemis' team.
"Kall Me Kubrick" sees him remonstrate on politics in a very grating and angry manner. Its punk essence is perfectly matched and built by a synth–fueled frenzy. Bemis is more shredding here than on any other track as he emphasizes how personal and how reflective the record is. Sure, it's bare, stripped–down and a bit more raw than expected but it's a welcomed passion. This in turn offsets the too–poppy and too–childish elements that creep up every now and again. Not to mention it kills off bits of pretentiousness that pop up in little nooks. Adding to the assortment of styles on offer, spoken word gets a play with "Judas Decapitation" and "Push" at the wheel. The latter's more soothing with a barrage of oohs and when you factor in Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou, you appreciate it just a wee more.
By now, it's pretty clear that an orchestral record allowed Say Anything the room to explore and resonate in a different light. Hearing them add this to their ensemble on tour should prove quite interesting and I must add that some tracks here are ripe and begging for an electric push. How they handle that is something I'll be eager to see. But what makes this album hit, is that Bemis is unafraid to tackle issues. "Boyd" is about fatherhood and also, rife with an angry punk tempo, that really matches up to "Six Six Six" and its religious tomes. That's the kind of debate Bemis wants to stir and he succeeds. His words feel assured and he sounds comfortable, especially in his romantic tracks with the madame. That in itself is a big plus as he covers a wide spectrum of emotions. I won't spoil any more here but it's a good avenue to walk. And most importantly, it's better accentuated by his guest cast. The characteristics of what made Say Anything are still present but there are a lot of layers over them on Hebrews. Risky– Perhaps. Terrible. Not in the least. This record is about Bemis' tinkering and having fun while addressing demons of old. Again, it's more his solo by my estimations but if you've read Polarity from BOOM! you'd see that Bemis, whether it's via that comic mini–series, or via this album, is a man who's looking forward. He isn't aimlessly wandering anymore. He's lost some punk–edge but he's replaced it with a new–found sense of purpose. The diverse effect of this album should more than justify this. A lot of sounds to take in and some head–scratching here and there, but overall, Bemis takes a brave step in a good direction.