Review Summary: I never say “washed up”, as I prefer to say “washed over”
There’s a song towards the end of Hebrews called “Lost My Touch” that in light of Say Anything announcing their retirement has become recontextualized to be an even more potent take on a band’s mortality. The song is essentially Max Bemis passing the torch over to the new wave of emo bands while accepting the fact that they’ll one day eclipse him. And while the whole song is heartwarming, the real kicker comes in the (incredibly performed by Jeremy Bolm) outro where Max acknowledges he may in fact be “washed up” the way people describe him as and no matter what comes next for him he’ll always be able to look back on the experiences he’s had with Say Anything fondly. Even for someone as aggressively self-aware as Max attempts to be, this song stands out as a touching acknowledgement of the transience of relevancy and coming to terms with the fact his band won’t last forever.
Fast forward to 2018, where Max released a personal letter to the fans titled “A Goodbye Summation”, effectively announcing Say Anything’s indefinite hiatus. Throughout this document he very openly details how detrimental the band has become overtime to his state of well-being and anxiety issues to the point where it was starting to destroy his life. And it took until the initial writing sessions of Oliver Appropriate to figure out how to finally close this chapter of his life; by coming full circle. On Oliver Appropriate, Max sets out to create the ideal sequel to …Is a Real Boy. Yet despite all of these lofty aspirations, Oliver Appropriate ends up being one of the most straightforward and cohesive albums he’s written in well over a decade.
For an album with as much ambition as Oliver Appropriate, it’s on first listen somewhat surprising to find how limited the instrumental palette is. The songs are largely built off acoustic guitars and minimal percussion, with the occasional keyboard line or brief electric guitar pattern such as the solo in “Pink Snot” or the outro of the album closer “Sediment”. It’s also worth nothing Oliver Appropriate is the band’s shortest album, and across the album’s 14 tracks there are only two songs to cross the 3 minute mark. More often than not this brevity actually helps the songs, as the majority of songs are mostly quick, infectious bursts that stay around long enough as to never wear out their welcome but short enough to leave the listener eager for more. It’s also greatly helped by the fact Max’s outstanding pop sensibilities are in full form here, as songs like “Daze”, “Ew Jersey”, and “When I’m Acid” are infectious little jams that will easily get stuck in your head. The album also flows incredibly well, as a selection of slower songs are thrown into the mix to help break the mold. Whether it be “Greased’s” ominous minor key progression or the stunning vocal interplay between Max and Sherri on “Mouthbreather” and “The Hardest”, these more open songs are sequenced perfectly to help keep the album consistently interesting. And even with this more simplistic overall style the album is still able to retain a lot of swell and bombast, which can especially be found in the two songs that bookend the album “The Band Fuel” and “Sediment”. Both of these songs open up with just Max and his acoustic guitar before building to enormous, triumphant climaxes that cement them as easy career highlights, with “Sediment” especially serving as an incredible note for the band to end on.
Admittedly the album isn’t all smooth sailing, as some of the more fragmented songs feel like they’re only there just to propel the album forward and fill space (notably “Fired”) but the good far outweighs the bad. Oliver Appropriate is an absolute triumph of an album that easily alongside Say Anything’s better records and an enormously high note to end on. Max Bemis is clearly not mentally well enough to continue the project, and a slew of messy and somewhat appalling twitter breakdowns questionable behavior greatly show someone clearly in need of a hiatus. Hopefully the time away from the band will give him time to fully recover from what hes been fighting that he’s finally closed this chapter of his life, and he can finally focus on much needed self improvement. But if this ends up being the final thing we ever hear from the band, then it certainly was enough proof that after all this time Max Bemis still hasn’t lost his touch.