Chris Conley will be the pain. “All you want from me is a broken heart and a mouth full of blood,” the Saves the Day frontguy sang on 2001’s Stay What You Are. What’s a little hemoglobin between fraught friends? For someone with such a sweet voice, Conley is a master at psychological warfare. In his songs, characters sit stunned and unnerved at how accurately he’s nailed them. Behind that boyish grin and gawky posture lies a savage mind.
After Stay What You Are‘s “At Your Funeral” became a crossover hit, Saves the Day landed a deal with DreamWorks. And on In Reverie, the New Jersey emo vets’ major-label debut, Conley and company trade awkward silences for a little awkward overcompensation. Reverie’s opener, “Anywhere With You,” saddles its buoyant chorus with grinding, overprocessed guitar. And elsewhere, the songs are more densely arranged and obscured with synthesizer, masking the lyrical spark — “Life leaks from your fingertips onto sparkling pavement” — that sets Conley apart from his pining peers.
On the more stripped-down songs, though, Conley’s keen intuition pokes through. “Where Are You” and “Wednesday the Third” — one pulsing, the other melancholic– are small gems. On the title track, over a splash of minimal melodic rock, he laments the “smell of burning photographs.” But what really distinguishes Conley is his aforementioned taste for blood, which pops up with alarming frequency. This isn’t cheap gore, but what you cough up after crying too hard. On “Rise,” a wall of overdubbed Conleys sings: All my veins are tangled up / Tied in knots / My heart bleeds slowly / Now it’s emptying into the streets.” He’ll even cut himself — if it means cutting you, too.