Earlier this month marked the tenth anniversary of Brand New’s sophomore album, ‘Deja Entendu’ and with the Long Island, New York band set to return to the UK next month for the Reading and Leeds Festival*, we thought it’d be a great time to look back on the bands discography.
Since their 2001 debut ‘Your Favourite Weapon’ all the way to 2009’s ‘Daisy,’ the quintet have grown in style, sound and stature. Starting out as an emerging pop punk band, twelve years on Brand New are seen as a highly influential band whose sound has evolved to an experimental/alternative rock.
With such an progressive back catalog, for this edition of “Versus,” four members of the Already Heard team have taken on the difficult task of standing up for all four of Brand New’s full-lengths.
Site Founder and Senior Editor Sean Reid defends ‘Deja Entendu’ whilst Heather Robertson explains why the bands debut (‘Your Favourite Weapon’) is their best, Aaron Lohan states why ‘Daisy’ is on par with its predecessors and Ryan Clayton stands up ‘The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me.’
Read on as each member of the Already Heard team state their cases.
*Since this article has been published, Brand New have cancelled their appearance at Reading and Leeds Festivals.
‘Deja Entendu’ (by Sean Reid)
Where do I start with one of the greatest albums of our time? Sure thats a bold statement but not only is ‘Deja Entendu’ Brand New’s best record, its one of the best records in recent history. Its impact and influential has been substantial and its legacy continues to grow along with its cult-like status year-by-year.
Whilst its predecessor (‘Your Favorite Weapon’) was rooted in teenage-angst, pop punk, ‘Deja’ planted the seed for the band Brand New have since become; an abstract, experimental indie rock band. This record took that teenage-angst and was moulded into a record with lyrical yearning, flowing diversity and musical texture. It’s a combination which is rare and hard to execute but from the echoing moments of ‘Tautou’ to Jesse Lacey’s self-depreciating ‘Okay I Believe You, but My Tommy Gun Don’t’ to the wallowing ‘Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis’ to the departing ‘Play Crack The Sky,’ the quartet grab hold of you on a journey of lyrically glorious and genre-defining, post-Millennium emo rock.
Jesse Lacey’s (The) Smiths-esque lyrics have become symbolic; “Keep the blood in your head and keep your feet on the ground.” (‘The Quiet Things No One Ever Knows.’) In addition the artwork consisting of an anonymous Astronaut floating above the sea adds to the albums significance thus rounding off this flawless, accomplished record.
For a then seventeen year old me, ‘Deja Entendu’ was a musical eye opener. The layered guitars, the neat yet subtle production, the lyrical wordplay and introspective songs struck a chord and ten years on I still regularly listen to ‘DE’ from start to finish and then from the start again.
As mentioned earlier, over the last decade its importance is ever-growing. Bands such as Balance & Composure, Manchester Orchestra, Citizen and The Republic of Wolves have captured Brand New’s foundation of refined emotional indie rock and self-reflective themes, and have moulded it into each of their own sound.
For music fans, ‘Deja Entendu’ was a revelation, striking a chord with thousands and making way for a whole new era of emotional-driven rock. I would go as far as calling it one of the defining albums of a generation. A generation where the online word of mouth became increasingly important, and the significance TV and radio airplay diminished. Over the last ten years ‘Deja Entendu’ has grown in stature and continues to be discovered by new fans. It has a timeless essence that demands to be listened to and embraced.
Am I going overboard? Possibly but I’m sure you will agree when I say its rare to find a record like ‘Deja Entendu.’ It is a record that is so thoroughly compelling and precisely produced, which is something that doesn’t come along often.
Your Favourite Weapon (by Heather Robertson)
“I got a twenty dollar bill that says no one’s ever seen you without makeup, you’re always made up.”
A lone American on a stage in Glasgow sang that line over a decade ago and I was introduced to my love affair with Brand New. From the off, and that first album, I was hooked. The acerbic humour of ‘Mix Tape,’ a snide putdown to a lover/friend/whatever spurned would resonate with any 15 year old who’s put their heart out there only to watch it get trampled. It also acts as a side swipe at the falsehood of friendship that we only begin to notice as we get into the more complex relationships of adulthood, and realise, a lot of the time, we’re not seeing the genuine person we thought we knew. Dressed up as a pretty acoustic track you’d put on a mix tape, it’s deadly. It’s got all the hallmarks of youth, that arrogant assertion “the way you don’t appreciate Brand New, or me” later in the song reveals how hurt and raw the singer really is, and trying to hide it under humour, where he’s likened his own band to The Smiths from the previous verse. That’s what comes pouring out of ‘Your Favourite Weapon,’ wit and woe. It’s why I think its one of the best things they’ve done, and why I’ll always come back to it.
The time period surrounding the ending of Jesse Lacey’s former band The Rookie Lot gave way to an invitation to sing vocals in a new band with Long Island Hardcore scene legend Eddie Reyes. The band would be called Taking Back Sunday, and Lacey eagerly brought on board childhood friend John Nolan to work with the band. Within a year, he had left to form Brand New after a pretty extensive fall out with Nolan, and Adam Lazarra was brought in to take vocalist duties up in TBS. The fall out of that would be the basis of one of the most epic battles for moral high ground in that little scene. In the wider world nu metal bands like Korn and Slipknot represented alternative music to the masses. But there was a push of emotionally invested hardcore bands slipping out from underground music scene, and with Thursday, The Movielife and Glassjaw amongst the bands providing that push to a more intelligent and considered sound, Brand New hit out with ‘Your Favourite Weapon’ in October 2001.
In ‘YFW,’ Jesse Lacey lays bare a large portion of the teenage condition, from the difficulties of relationships, both intimate and social, to the self-doubt and self-awareness of growing up and trying to follow your dreams. ‘Failure By Design’ for example, is still one of the most perfect descriptions of frustration in the mundane reality of following your dream. In this case it’s in relation to working on their own music, but it’s easily applicable to any project; to education, or to a job that takes up enough of your time that you lose a piece of yourself to it. The resigned last line of the chorus crystallises it: ‘It’s Failure By Design.’ There’s so much self-awareness and droll humour in that. By writing this song, he’s overcoming at least some of that suggested failure, but it’s a definite human feature that we give over a bit of ourselves to it and consider our own too thoroughly. Put into a three and a quarter minute pop sing-along, it can genuinely invoke a smile whenever I feel like things are going to meltdown or be a comfort when they feel like they already have.
Teenage years are a crucible for friendships and finding out what friends really are, and it’s covered pretty extensively in ‘YFW.’ From the opening cry of ‘The Shower Scene,’ a syncopated poison dart about betrayal which sets the tone for a lot of the album – ‘it’s funny how your worst enemies always turn out to be one of your best friends best friends’ but the one track that really makes this album is the massive ’Seventy Times 7.’ It talks about the rather explosive breakdown of the aforementioned friendship with Nolan, and the righteous anger in reaction to a betrayal by a friend. The Bible reference to the number of times one needs to be able to forgive a brother of his sins is a pretty big sign of how deep the feelings of anger went. The brilliant lyrical barbs like “And you can think of me when you forget your seatbelt, and again when your head goes through the windshield” and ‘search your cell for something with which to hang yourself’ are raw nuggets of spleen vented at volume over the chugging guitars which make this track a dance floor filler. The breakdown with the lyrics “is that what you call tact, you’re as subtle as a brick in the small of my back’ and ‘I’ve seen more spine in jellyfish” display the one up-man ship of the two ex-friends trying to get that last withering attack in, something which will be familiar to anyone who’s had a massive fallout destroy a friendship. The breakdown focuses everything on that exchange of words, and then builds back up into a swelling of guitars, and Lacey’s calm voice breaks into shrieks of sheer unadulterated rage. It’s impossible not to be swept away by that torrent, and it leaves you a bit drained at the end.
If you’ve not noticed it by now, I should point out the vocal dexterity of Lacey, who manages to make lines from songs which others would stumble over look effortless. the ‘search your cell..’ line from ‘Seventy Times 7’ is a perfect example: where a few words omitted could’ve made that line so much easier to sing, but the speed and force Lacey belts it out makes every word feel like a bullet piercing your skin; sharp, staccato blasts of frustration and anger. That opening line from the shower scene is another trip-worthy one, the natural pauses in that statement are thrown out the window to make a much more memorable and cutting line. In ‘Sudden Death in Carolina’ its the pauses adding dramatic effect to the verses, “last night, I swallowed liquor and a lighter… and this morning I threw up fire” – the black humour of it clearly influenced by similar long island bands like The Movielife or to a lesser extent Chicago punks Alkaline Trio. If nothing else, I feel he genuinely earns the right to say his tongues the hardest working muscle on his body in their second album ‘Déjà Entendu’ after all the work on this album.
The closer ‘Soco Amaretto Lime’ has always been a favourite, and like the characters in the song, friends and I have gone out drinking and relishing the life we’ve got, hoping the ghosts of our 18 year old selves are still out drinking, dancing and being young. It’s a downbeat, reflective track but it harks back to good memories of growing up and having a good time as if looking through a box of old photos. The chorus of “you’re just jealous cause we’re young and in love” is one of the most bittersweet lines, as if growing older makes our hearts less capable of it. It still feels hopeful though, the idea we could just be those same ghosts doing the same things that made our summers forever.
In re-listening to ‘Your Favourite Weapon,’ I realised something. There wasn’t a single song I wanted to skip. Even the tracks that I had previously thought of being a bit weak, I found myself singing along happily with. I think that’s the mark of truly great album, that more than a decade down the line repeated listens still holds up, still makes you want to engage, and makes you reconsider tracks you didn’t get previously. As much as there’s the instant gratification of the hook in ‘Jude Law..’, there’s the less instant brooding sadness of ‘The No Seatbelt Song.’ There’s a lot here to re-discover, and it seems that I’m not the only one who feels that way. Even though the band have clearly moved on from ‘YFW;’ apart from ‘Jude Law and a Semester Abroad,’ some songs barely featured on set lists from the point ‘Deja Entendu’ came out, there was always the fan-led drive to celebrate that 10 year anniversary. The songs on ‘YFW’ remain firm fan favourites. They resonate because even though you’re over that ex who broke your heart a million years ago, you’re sometimes angry enough about how that turned out to wish the next person they kiss “has something terribly contagious on their lips.” And when you’ve been feeling betrayed ‘Seventy Times 7’ really does capture how that anger feels. The overdramatic nature of some of the songs here presents the natural kneejerk reaction to the experiences of getting screwed over by your friends and girlfriend. The reality is that this album displays a wealth of ability to understand and write about human experience in a way that others instantly relate to. It’s a snapshot of a band that has so much potential it’s bursting at the seams.
Daisy (by Aaron Lohan)
With a band like Brand New, you are left teetering on the edge. The spontaneity of this band is so profound and bold, that each release they churn out always causes a 50/50 split. This was none more so than with their fourth LP, 2009’s ‘Daisy’. I’ll agree that the band’s definitive records belong to ‘Deja Entendu’ and ‘The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me,’ but I’ll go as far to say ‘Daisy’ stands toe to toe with them. There are many reasons for my opinion, and it is laid out like so.
Musically the album is relentless and presents a band in a state of unpredictable psychosis. The roaring fury in ‘Vices’ just sweeps one off of their feet; a moment of distress fuelled rage in two minutes. The way this descends into the slower fatigue filled atmosphere on ‘Bed’ shows weariness. And this continues a bipolar disorder of emotions; these are the results from years upon years of emotional dreariness and anger piling up.
The dynamics of this record act upon the soft verse, loud chorus technique brilliantly. Guitars will go from bluesy sombre tones to ripping grunge knock outs, whilst the drums are hollow and bass thick. ‘Noro’ and ‘Bought a Bride’ display this perfectly. Meanwhile, there is a creeping sense of clarity on ‘At the Bottom;’ the soundtrack to evenings of reflection beside a lake in the dark and in the middle of nowhere.
Themes are delivered in brilliantly in the imagery used in each song. The religious and life defining in ‘Daisy,’ relationships as found on ‘Sink,’ and the problematic solving of problems in ‘Gasoline,’ natural and societal imagery are used to convey such themes solidly.
Personally, when I first heard ‘Daisy’ I was eternally captivated by its solemn, dreary nature. Sure it’s inconsistent at points, but I believe this inconsistency to help show the album’s unpredictability based on the disordered nature. As previously stated it is the results of life getting too much that it leaves you in a sense of self-loathing and contempt. This gives it a human quality, a relatable quality, and thus this is why I think it’s one of the band’s best efforts.
The Devil and God Are Raging Inside of Me (by Ryan Clayton)
Sometimes a record is tied to a particular time in your life, others tend to endure long after their release, the layers peeling back and becoming more relevant to you at certain points throughout your life. Certain lyrics that maybe didn’t seem to meana great deal 3 years ago, have since become tied up in memories, people and places.
‘The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me’ is that record for me. In 2006 I was still in my teens, I had enjoyed Brand New’s previous output, however when this record came out, it simply blew me away, I hadn’t heard anything like it before, and honestly I doubt I will again, it offered a completely different take on the mainstream “emo” sound that was popular at the time. The record showed a good amount of progression from ‘Deja Entendu’ and let the band really experiment with their sound.
From the first line of ‘Sowing Season (Yeah,)’ I knew this was something special. The slow build of the opening song before it explodes in the chorus with an emotional fury, for me, was completely new and exciting. Jesse Lacey’s vocals burned through the speakers, cracking and breaking giving off a sense of urgency that still gets me excited about this record.
Instrumentally the band became more proficient, experimenting with louder more brash sounds. The dynamics between the quiet hushed melodies and the all out aural assault when the full band join becomes completely overwhelming. Instrumental track ‘Welcome To Bangkok’ really drives this point home with a quiet acoustic led introduction before exploding full force, letting the band experiment with huge soundscapes that become overbearing and increase in volume until the tracks gives way under the weight of itself. The rest of the tracks on the record are similar in scope and their sonic makeup relies on the those two distinct sounds and the juxtaposition of quiet and loud. That eternal battle between chaos and serenity is what Brand New manage to harness and use to power their way through the records 12 songs.
Where I feel ‘The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me’ really stands out is in its lyrics and their delivery. Jesse Lacey manages to convey all his emotions in these beautifully bleak tracks. The lyrical subject matter of the majority of the record is pretty heavy going. Take ‘Limousine’ for example, Lacey has stated in numerous interviews that its about a 5 year old girl in his town named Katie, who was the flower girl at her parents wedding and on the drive home got hit by a drunk driver coming onto the exit of the highway. Her mother was driving in the car behind her and when she got out she held Katie’s decapitated head in her lap while the ambulance got out the rest of her body from the car. Nevertheless the delivery of the song gives the dark tale behind the track a sense of beauty, and when the refrain kicks in the angst and emotion that strains through the vocals. My final point on the lyrics and vocals is with fan and live favourite ‘You Won’t Know’ which takes a simple repetitive phrase and it becomes an instant hook, with urgency bleeding through each screamed syllable.
Overall ‘The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me’ is in my opinion Brand New’s best record. It manages to be relevant and has only grown in quality since its release; each track unveiling parts you haven’t heard before, little instrumental flourishes and backing vocals that you hadn’t picked up on the first hundred times you’d listened to it. It still manages to sound fresh and exciting in 2013. The amount Brand New progressed in every aspect was such a staggering achievement it constitutes itself as a real genre classic, and set them apart from all of their contemporaries at the time. That eternal battle between chaos and serenity is what Brand New manage to harness and use to power their way through the records 12 songs. It is almost as if the devil and god both are fighting to be heard loudest. Overall it is the combination of the two, that makes the record the band’s greatest achievement.
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*Since this article has been published, Brand New have cancelled their appearance at Reading and Leeds Festivals.