The scene is dripping with irony. Thrift store connoisseurs decked out in flamboyantly colored kicks and "Jesus Is My Homeboy" t-shirts adorn the landscape. Cheesy synths have taken over indie music and wailing 80's heavy-metal riffs overflow out of the retro-loving
chalice of modern music. Irony is the new pink, and pink is the new black. Let's face it, this scene is almost identical to hipster New York fashion crazes and high school politics. Punks can be as -- if not more than -- pretentious and conceited as all those "jocks" and "preps" that most everyone else blames for ruining their teens. It's all about being cool, making sure that you say the right words to be considered the coolest. It's a continual progression hoarding deeper and deeper into the trough of egotistical
But, who am I to criticize other people for how they act. Isn't it pretentious to call pretentious people out on how pretentious they are? See!? Even this is ironic! We've delved too far into the pool of irony!!! There's no turning back!!! Say Anything's debut album, "...is a Real Boy", it appears, is the pinnacle of scene irony. Here it is people -- all the lesbian haircuts on guys and thick, plastic-framed glasses can't save you now. "Is a Real Boy" is a concept album, fucking drenched in irony, about the current state of the punk rock mindset. In brief, the story of the album is about a boy in an unsuccessful band (coincidentally called Say Anything) who simply can't stand "the vast
hypocrisy inherent in society". This all changes when, one day, a magical power forces our hero to shout out his innermost feelings "in the form of fully orchestrated rock anthems". Instead of being shunned by his peers, teenagers across the country grow to love him and idolize him. So the emo commentary is set, poised to attack the cold, dark heart of the music industry.
Slapped on the cover of this album upon buying it was a blurb of orgasmic praise from the one and only Jason Tate. Praise from Absolutepunk.net is usually overblown hype and a masturbatory opening statement in the liner notes usually means the band is way to self-absorbed to be taken seriously. There is no way I would believe that this would be a good album from all the reading they ask you to do. What grabs you is the songwriting. "Belt" is a fantastic opener. It's a song rife with gang-vocals, harmonies out the ass, and a great sense of melody and storytelling. The best aspect of Say Anything is their knack for combining excellent hooks with great story-telling. Bands such as The Weakerthans are called to mind just for the use of melody to aid the story, not the other way around. While the music is great, the lyrics are the focal point. Hidden within the text of the story of a boy thrust into the world of alternative rock is a heavy social commentary on the world around him. Lyrics about lost identity, sex, and contradictions fill this CD. There is a charming quirkiness about the words written down. Lines like "When I watch you, I want to do you right where you're standing, right on the foyer, on this dark day, right in plain view" evoke laughter, while lines like "I want to know your plans and how involved in them I am" give you a sense of how warm and loving Say Anything are. In the song "Every Man Has a Molly", the singer urges all his fans to buy his merch because previous open-journal lyrics caused his last girlfriend to break up with him. I always did wonder how all those girls who were the subject of emo songs felt.
Furthermore, this entire album was orchestrated by one guy: Max Bemis. He plays everything on this album, save percussion, right down to the synth riffs that randomly pop up. If anything, this is one of the best albums I've heard spring out of one mind alone. Sonically, I'm hard pressed to explain what Say Anything sounds like. I want to say Moneen, Bright Eyes, and Green Day thrown together, but that doesn't really sum them up that well. On songs like "The Writhing South" you can hear hints of folk-punk like Flogging Molly. "Alive With The Glory of Love" calls to mind a Smiths/Strokes hybrid. I can't help but hear Piebald in "Passing Slowly Through a Vector". Also, I can't explain it, but "Chia-like I Shall Grow" reminds me of a punked out Genesis.
Beyond the orchestration of instruments, you can't help but notice the vocal arrangements. The harmonies and campfire singalongs are one of the key elements of "Is a Real Boy". In the liner notes, some twenty-four people are credited with guest and backing vocals on this album (it's like a Polyphonic Punk Spree). Bemis clearly knows how to effectively call in a gang of guys to shout out "what say you and all your friends step up to my friends in the alley tonight". Female sirens are ushered in to sing into the more harmonious parts of the album, such as the mid-album anthem "Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat" telling off naysayers, "These are my friends, this who they have always been". There rarely is a moment when no backing vocals have been included.
Bemis seems to be a little overzelous in his attack on hypocritical entertainers, but he is clearly passionate about it. At times the music can go through a slight stretch where it gets a little mundane, but is saved by the last minute riff or breakdown, and excellent lyrics. Yes, this album is highly ironic in that it's critical of the scene it's categorized in and it's an album about a band and there are songs in here that are about songs. But, Bemis's overall quirkiness makes it work. When he tells the music industry to "go choke on your irony", he is leaving his own band out of the mix. At least check out their e-card on their site.