As important as genre is frequently seen to be, the stigma it can have can be a weight that’s hard to maneuvre around. It leads to certain expectations for everything from sound to success that can be hard to recover from they’re not met. And probably where this is most prominent is within the flimsily catagorised realm of the ‘straight-up rock band’. It’s a tag that immediately brings to mind one of two scenarios – the stadium-baiting giants like the Foo Fighters or Nickelback, or the band that’ll forever be a support act who militantly slog away on the toilet circuit just to make enough to survive. It’s often neglected that there are more results than what this term initially hints at – bands like Say Yes, a Canadian trio featuring alumni of Alexisonfire, Jersey and Saint Alvia, and one with a style that’s difficult to pigeonhole beyond ‘straight-up rock band’. And it’s here where the negative connotations will undoubtedly take their greatest toll, because their debut Real Life Trash Mag steamrolls over most other acts in that bracket with its punch and stomp.
The formula to a more interesting sound with this sort of no-frills rock largely boils down to three key components – scale, atmosphere and dynamics. Scale is never a problem, and though atmosphere is hit sometimes, it’s the crucial lack of dynamics that can leave a lot of bands feeling a bit flat. Say Yes manage to fit all three in this album though, with a sound that’s dark and brooding, but one that complements their big, anthemic songs. It feels incredibly fleshed out too, weaving together numerous influences into one hearty rock blend that’s accessible as it is nuanced. While tracks like Once Forward, Twice Back and Too Much, Not Enough hit that sweet spot of pure rock anthemia, there are cuts that come from a darker source, like the glittery gutter stomp of West Memphis or the snaking, post-punk-tempered indie of Dying To Make You Blind. It’s very much the thinking man’s rock record, bold and brash enough to appeal on a surface level, but with a greater sense of longevity thanks to its permanently enrapturing blend.
It also helps that Say Yes have enough musical chops to pull it off throughout. There’s never a single moment where these three men don’t pull their weight – Michael Zane’s basslines capture a superb propulsive thickness that really drives the album along, aided by the rolling quality of Jordan Hasting’s drumming on tracks like Short Handed Appeal. But the real driving force behind Say Yes is frontman Adam Michael, a bona ride rockstar in the making whose strident vocals are able to bend and shift at will to fit whatever musical canvas is created by his bandmates. The result is a malleable, eclectic performance that frequently dips in and out of styles, from gravel-throated ’90s influences on Storm to spit-flecked alt-rock on Five Walls to surging arena fare on Too Much, Not Enough. It never loses its way though; there’s a sinister, ruminant undertone that consistently flows beneath the surface and ties any loose ends together, fitting for an album whose loose narrative surrounds the lives of society’s most undesirable characters.
Granted, there isn’t really much else to say about Real Life Trash Mag – it’s just a damn fine album that can only be properly grasped by diving straight in. And for as addictive as it is, and the fact that there isn’t a bad track on here, it’s an album you’re going to want to dive into, over and over again. Say Yes prove here that a ‘proper’ rock band can still be exciting based purely on the music; there’s no flash or image that takes over on this album, just a load of brilliant songs played with no agenda whatsoever. If this is going to be a full-time thing and not just some stopgap before Jordan Hastings works on a new Alexisonfire album, then Say Yes have got a long, exciting path ahead of them.
For fans of: Foo Fighters, Queens Of The Stone Age, Quicksand
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Real Life Trash Mag’ by Say Yes is released on 28th October on Dine Alone Records.