On February 4, 2016, California pop-punk legends Say Anything surprised fans by releasing their new album “I Don’t Think It Is” completely without warning or promotion. Frontman Max Bemis released a statement saying in part that he has “become a bit weary of doing the same song and dance leading up to the actual endgame: people actually listening to something.” He also commented to Noisey Magazine that he wanted this record to be his “My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy” (a reference to Kanye West’s 2010 album of that title, which was seen as an artistic departure from his prior norms, and received rave reviews from critics.)
“I Don’t Think It Is” departs heavily from the sound employed on the last Say Anything record, 2014’s “Hebrews”, which relied on a lot of synthesizers and atmospheric textures. Bemis says that his approach to this record was different than every other record he’s done, saying that he “wanted to make a record where the only premeditation was that it’s not premeditated.” It’s instantly clear from the record’s opening track, “Give A Damn”, a nearly four minute punk rock anthem, that Bemis and co. were not messing around with their desire to write something they’ve never written before.
As the record weaves through samples of 80’s punk rock, 2000’s hip-hop, math rock, and some of the same off-color pop-punk that has been Say Anything’s signature sound for over a decade now, there’s a lot to like, but also a lot to question. With a record this influenced by punk, where are the thrashing, destroy-everything-style drums? The mix on the percussion is so diluted in places that it almost feels like they were written and recorded separately from everything else on the track.
The guitar and bass work reflects that punk sensibility with a type of charm and candor that only Say Anything could provide, but there’s no spine provided by the drums. There’s also a distinct lack of calculation on many of these songs, and while the goal of the record was to sort of throw things together, the arrow misses its mark when songs start to feel more like random smatterings of first-thing-to-come-to-mind ideas instead of plotted progressions.
What Say Anything achieves on this record is an ability to say that they can still write interesting music while experimenting with sounds outside of their comfort zone. The drawback to that, however, is a resulting collection of songs that sours on the listener more frequently than they should and reflects poorly on the band’s prior work. This isn’t to say that “I Don’t Think It Is” doesn’t belong with the rest of the band’s discography; it just means that the changes and experimentation found here were too sudden without transition.
Perhaps an intermediary album between this one and “Hebrews” would’ve helped bridge the gap between atmospheric pop-punk and spastic, confusing punk mixed with hip-hop and math rock. Regardless, there’s plenty to still enjoy on this record, even though it’s much fewer and further between than what listeners have come to expect from Say Anything.