Say Anything’s 2004 breakout album, …Is a Real Boy — a sprawling rock opera penned by frontman Max Bemis, later diagnosed as bipolar — firmly established the six-piece as an indie band that thinks big. So it’s no surprise that the Defense they mount on this two-disc, major-label follow-up, which expands on its predecessor’s themes, is a very compelling one. With twice the anguished howls, twice the soul-baring lyrics, and twice the screeching guitars, In Defense of the Genre is easily one of the most ambitious artistic statements the emo scene’s decade-plus development has offered.
Yet even as they embrace their chosen genre, Bemis & Co. expand and redefine it. Tracks that begin with familiar three-chord strums suddenly blossom into lilting reggae rhythms (”This Is F—ing Ecstasy”), blissful doo-wop choirs (”Retarded in Love”), or bleeping electronics (”The Church Channel”). Indeed, the album’s eclectic whirl of styles makes recent heralded emo experiments — like Fall Out Boy’s collaboration with Kenny ”Babyface” Edmonds and My Chemical Romance’s flirtation with music-hall camp — seem positively conservative by comparison.
Unexpected as they are, Defense’s sonic twists almost always work, justifying the album’s 89-minute run time. Label it emo or whatever you like, but this is gloriously conflicted pop for the musically omnivorous. A-
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