Before I started writing this review, I felt the need to revisit both Say Anything’s album from this past January, I Don’t Think It Is, as well my subsequent review of the album that I wrote for AbsolutePunk.net. This was a surreal experience, partially because of my own disdain for the album but more so because I spoke with Bemis about the aforementioned review. Following its publication, we had a (very pleasant) dialogue about my review, Bemis’s music and art criticism in general, and all things considered, it proved to be a thought-provoking and productive conversation.
What you must understand is just how much Say Anything’s music has meant to me over the past decade. Even now, at a time in my life when I find myself returning to the band’s later output less and less, it’s easy to trace a thick black line from my tastes today to the year I discovered In Defense of the Genre, and subsequently …Is a Real Boy. At the time, my 13-year-old mind had never heard something quite so complex, so unique as Bemis’s knack for musical arrangement and lyrical phrasing. They were my favorite band for years, and the release of I Don’t Think It Is in January, my review and the discussion surrounding it, left me questioning my growing musical tastes, platform, and the very purpose of music reviews in the Age of Streaming.
So, following two paragraphs of exposition, what do I have to say about the long-awaited sophomore album from Two Tongues, a supergroup comprised of Bemis and Saves the Day’s Chris Conley? Two may neither be the meeting of the minds fans want it to be nor the disaster some are bound to label it, but it is a leaner and decidedly more focused album than I Don’t Think It Is. Despite a genuinely baffling mix that often leaves the songs sounding like untouched demos, the songwriting stands as a coherent return to form for the duo.
Placed next to Two Tongues’ diverse and overlooked debut, Two is almost unrecognizable under layers of thick distortion and garage rock guitar riffs. But for all the album may lack in a connection to its predecessor, it makes up for in sheer audacity. Some of these songs are unlike anything we’ve heard from either musician before, from the icy synths pulled from opener “Azalea” to the low-end rumble that fades out the spacey, nine-minute closing track, “Black Hole.” Two Tongues’ decision to return seven years later with a complete departure from their squeaky-clean debut is certainly admirable, even if the results are a bit uneven. The songs here can essentially be separated into three categories: songs that work, songs that don’t work, and songs that would work were it not for the album’s factitious “lo-fi” production. Fortunately, the songs that don’t work are relegated to a three-track sequence in the center of the album, starting with “S.O.S.S.O.L.”
Up to that point, we are treated with an opener fit for a hockey montage, one of the band’s strongest songs to date (“Scorpio”) and a refreshing addition to Bemis’s catalog of latter-discography ballads (“U.S.”). But “S.O.S.S.O.L.” is a mess of a song, messier than almost anything here, and unfortunately, it’s 90-second runtime only leads us quicker into the heart of darkness. “We Can Work” might be the worst song either artist has produced, featuring jarring start-stop guitars and vocals from Conley that sound like actual sobbing. This carries on for an excruciating five minutes. “Veuve Cliquot” is less offensive, but still about as messy as “S.O.S.S.O.L.” – a problem that very well could have been fixed by better mixing and a little extra attention to detail.
Still, Two Tongues save much of the best for last in the form of the album’s three-song finale. “Bateman” bounces along the kind of eclectic arrangement Bemis has become known for just before the penultimate “Interlude Two.” “Interlude Two” is a self-referencing sequel to Two Tongues’ “Interlude,” sung by Eisley’s Sherri Dupree-Bemis, thus hitting listeners with a one-two punch of nostalgia.
Ultimately, there’s something endearing about this strange, strange album that keeps me coming back. Perhaps it’s a longing for what could have been, or hope for what the musicians can create together in the future. Perhaps it’s a little bit of both. One thing is certain: whether or not I recommend this album seems irrelevant, because most listeners will already know if it’s for them. But even for those who dismiss Two, it should be clear that these fans-turned-friends and scene pioneers have done more than enough to earn our attention. I ended my review of I Don’t Think It Is on a hopeful note, and seeing as Two is already a step forward, I’m happy to say I remain optimistic about the future of Two Tongues.