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-
DOWNLOAD THIS: Hear a preview of ''The Church Channel'' at barnesandnoble.com