Since exploding onto the current music scene, Max Bemis has always been one of the most productive and unique musicians around. All quirks aside, the man has made some of the catchiest and deeply personal music in the last decade with Say Anything, not to mention the work he does with his “Song Shop,” where fans can buy songs that Max will write for them. Then there’s the super group Two Tongues with his musical idol Chris Conley of Saves the Day, and Perma, his band with his wife Sherri DuPree of Eisley. Max Bemis and the Painful Splits drew acclaim for being his first fully recognized solo album, sold only at shows during the Say Anything/Motion City Soundtrack/Saves the Day tour. While the songs here are great and will surely satisfy fans of his previous work, they sound little different from acoustic demos of songs that could have worked just as easily as Say Anything songs.
The album, comprised of ten songs totaling less than a half hour, leads off with “Chlorine Bath,” one of the catchiest songs on the record. Bemis’ vocals are great here, especially in the chorus which is easy to sing along with. The acoustic strumming and echoes of the vocal track give the song a distinctly lo-fi sound and it is highly appreciated. Bemis’ voice drips with emotion in the final chorus as he belts out the lyrics, delivering a solid start to the record.
The next song is “Assimilate All Bastards,” with Bemis alternating between singing and yelling vocals during the verses. The chorus is sung cleanly and gives the song a nice touch. Overall, the song isn’t extremely complex, featuring the same chord progression throughout. While Bemis does an admirable job performing by himself throughout this record, perhaps the simplistic structure of some of the songs, this one included, shows how much Bemis is supported by the rest of his full band in terms of writing the musical structures of songs.
Next is the highlight track of the record, “Do the Dohnk,” which opens with DuPree singing, giving the song an airy, uplifting feel. The song feels like it has the least amount of effects placed on the vocals and the acoustic guitar and balances perfectly with one of the rare appearances of electric guitar on the record. Bemis is known during live shows as being primarily a singer, handling little of the guitar duties to be free to move around. On this record, he shows his talents as a lead guitar player, with the best playing coming from this track.
“Former Punisher Gone Rogue” is one of the more Say Anything-styled songs here, reminiscent of …Is A Real Boy, minus the seemingly random jumps in song structure. It is one of the better songs on the record with a chorus that will surely lead to sing-alongs on the singer’s upcoming solo tour, where his follow-up solo record will be sold.
The next three songs feature similar styles, with Bemis strumming a couple of chords throughout the songs and singing vocals that were distorted after recording. These songs are good but not the best on the record and would probably be lucky to be b-sides if they were recorded by Say Anything. While some of the songs sound similar to his main project, it should be noted though that several do feel unique as they are given a more punk, do-it-yourself feel that the singer hasn’t really tapped in to previously.
“Waster” is one of the softer and sweeter songs on the record, fulfilling the ballad requirement of most singer-songwriters. Bemis has shown time and time again that he’s fully capable of writing both energetic anthems that get crowds going wild and tender ballads that could even lead to slow dancing. Bemis’ relatively recent marriage has led him to switch from writing songs spiting the girls that have done him wrong to praising the one that he loves and the newer songs are very much approved.
The last song, “Our Sentence Is Up,” features the only appearance of piano on the record, with little to no production after recording, allowing Bemis to sing cleanly over the piano. In certain places on the record, the production shines from the extra effects used here and there, but sometimes it is overused. On this song, the effect-free approach is pleasant and allows Bemis’ voice to shine. The single note plucks from the electric guitar close the album on an excellent note.
With the second Max Bemis and the Painful Splits record slated for release in only a few short months, Bemis has proven to be more productive than ever, with two solo releases in less than six months and a new Say Anything record on the way as well. Max Bemis and the Painful Splits will surely tide fans over until the band’s next release, as well as possibly bring along some new fans that enjoy lo-fi acoustic work.