Jukebox Breakdown: Say Anything – “Slowly Through A Vector”
by Chad Jewett
Say Anything’s …Is A Real Boy celebrates a ten-year anniversary this month, and despite being one of those rare punk records that was so thoroughly and widely metabolized that Max Bemis hardly need bother to sing a single word from it to this day, the record remains wholly singular. As massive, dense, and wildly expressive as any album in emo’s thirty year archive, …Is A Real Boy arrived with its own set of myths and that have seemingly only waxed since. As a complex brick of wry confessionals, the LP remains compelling. Some songs have aged like wine (“Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat”, “The Futile”) and others like milk (“Admit It!!!” was tough to swallow then, and its performance of shallowness just sort of sounds like actual shallowness now – indeed, what could be more “post-modern” than an emo song in scare quotes?). But as a suite of high-wire emotional play-acting, the LP has stuck around.
Indeed, the songs that persist in their indelibility are the ones that eschew irony in favor of impressionism, the stretches where Max Bemis commits his considerable talent for connection and evocativeness into poignancy rather than ill-fitting indignation. “Slowly Through A Vector,” the twilit, ruminative highlight of …Is A Real Boy’s second half, remains the album’s most moving breakthrough, its most earnest bit of pop psychology, because it whispers where so much of the album shouts. An embracing passage of shimmering slow-core, it is the most record’s most opaque stretch, and thus its most alluring. Hushed and gentle amongst a set of grand, cutting gestures, the song offers an autumnal languor that can’t help but feel striking within the otherwise humid theatricality of …Is A Real Boy, a record whose main premise is that of a pathological musical come to life. The song is built in layers, a needle point of sparkling guitars (the album never got closer to its oblique Midwestern emo influences than it does here) laid over a curling Motown bass riff, eventually giving way to a swing-timed bridge and one of the album’s most simple, and thus most effective, sing alongs: “Ha Ha Ha / Show me what you got.”
“Slowly Through A Vector” eventually bursts around that sing-along – that “build into cresting fireworks” arc ends up being the one and only narrative shape for …Is A Real Boy, to the point where one could (and amongst my friends, did) debate the relative quality of different crescendos on different songs. But the whirling, feisty outro, for all its simple, bald-faced economy, feels like an earned ending to one of Say Anything’s better narratives, even if the refrain’s actual language couldn’t be more boiler-plate (again, “Ha Ha Ha / Show me what you got”). More than any entry in the outsized emotional triptych that is …Is A Real Boy, the finale of “Slowly Through A Vector” seems to build from details – the clever effect of a pickup switch dotting spaces in the first verse, the lighter-than-air arpeggios that trickle around Bemis’s whisper, the beauty of lines like “Drink the colors of the night time” – one of the few moments where Say Anything approach the world as a rich palette rather than a door for nailing theses. So much of the album expectorates; “Slowly Through A Vector” accumulates. So much of …Is A Real Boy is devoted to fighting the world; “Slowly Through A Vector” remains the record’s gorgeous apex for choosing, instead, to paint it.