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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Say Anything
In Defense of the Genre

Rating: 6.5/10 ?

December 12, 2007
Earlier this year, a colleague from the now-defunct Stylus and I had a brief argument about whether or not Max Bemis is serious. The discussion centered around the Clive Davis-insisted bonus single tacked onto Say Anything…is a Real Boy, "Wow, I Get Sexual Too!," which actually made it into video rotation despite its chorus of "called her on the phone and she touched herself/ I laughed myself to sleep," sung in near nursery rhyme-like condescension. It is extremely hard to tell if Bemis is screwing around, which isn't exactly his fault, because he does work in a genre full of female-contemptuous pigs who rely too hard on bad jokes.

The genius of Say Anything is that they're the 2Gether of emo; they'll make money off people who buy into the stuff, they'll make money off people who hate the stuff. They're good at blurring the line. The title of In Defense of the Genre can only mean one thing, but then what can that say for a song called "Died a Jew," where Bemis gleefully announces, "I'll chase my milk with ham!" The acoustic ballad throws in lighter-unworthy curveballs like "mental masturbation," and let's talk about its genre-hopping in the first place.

Genre is a double album that plays down its ambitiousness yet contradicts its very title with lots of requisite genre pieces that sure don't sound like jokes, because like the token "Wow" dance jam, they often beat the dull drama-rock stuff. "No Soul" gets a big laugh by sticking the femme-chorus from Biggie Smalls' "Juicy" in at the end wholesale, setting up the even girlier McCartney-pop of "That is Why," augmented with (natch) string arrangements. The cut would sound like a fleet excursion off the Format's Dog Problems if not for lines like "let me tell you all the things about you I abhor" that chain it firmly back to emo. "Baby Girl, I'm a Blur" is even more disco than "Sexual," but doesn't stand out as comedy in itself as Bemis probably intended in a year when Good Charlotte and Fall Out Boy mined the same trend with utter sincerity. And what kind of genre defense makes its best cases outside of its genre?

Bemis has all the ingredients of a rock genius: he's certifiably nuts (spent time in the bipolar ward), he writes lyrics about rough sex that name past accomplices by name (hi, Molly Connolly!), he made a double album while still in his creative prime, and he may or may not be joking at all. When they write songs called "Shiksa (Girlfriend)," and "Retarded in Love," it's hard to tell. But Art Brut this is not. No matter how Bemis dresses up his amusing inversions, Say Anything differs very little from an actual emo band, even if they happen to be an unusually competent and playful one. Where it hurts is that the songwriting is rarely rich enough to remember much after three plays, except which one's the metal one and which one's the dance one. And I doubt emo kids wouldn't flock to him so hard if his satire was really that biting. It's pretty hard to dismiss a dude outright who comes up with punkish provocations like "My people were slaves before yours invented hip-hop," or "We're snapping into Slim Jims/ Out to save some souls," but it's painful to not be able to A-list him. He's just not songful enough. In Defense of the Genre does defeat the emo stigma and the double CD stigma easily, and does improve slightly on the pretty-good …Is a Real Boy. But these are minor inventions; any "genius" is pretty much limited to the bites and nuggets reported here. Maybe he actually needs to get crazier.

Reviewed by Dan Weiss
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.

See other reviews by Dan Weiss



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