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Continued from Brand New: Anthology Vol. I

If the first half of Brand New’s career is what brought them into the public eye, then it was the second half that elevated them into the conversation of of being one of indie-rock’s greatest new millennium bands.  While Your Favorite Weapon and Deja Entendu saw them master the art of pop-punk/pop-rock, it wasn’t until 2006 that many began to view them as serious innovators.  For as large of a maturity leap as Deja represented on the heels of its relatively juvenile predecessor, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me marked an even more colossal evolution.  Gone were the cheap feeling pop-punk chords and tongue-in-cheek self awareness, replaced with long, winding  song progressions that culminated in and seething, searing riffs and lyrics that represented both an existential crisis and a total loss of innocence.  It was the band properly coming into its own; the logical if unanticipated destination of Your Favorite Weapon‘s anger and Deja‘s biting cynicism.

The trials that the band endured during the recording process only fueled the record’s overarching sense of anger and depression: from a multitude of deaths and illnesses that befell band members’ friends and families to the leaking of a good portion of the album’s material midway through, it was probably the most difficult record that Brand New recorded.  The album title itself came from a conversation Lacey had with a friend regarding Daniel Johnston, a musician who suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  Lacey and the rest of the band felt that the incoherent rambling represented the stark opposites on display within the release; logic and chaos, good and evil, contentment and depression.

The phrase itself was pretty cool, and reading it somewhere else would be striking, so that was what drew me to it…but listening back to the album I realized how much it represents quiet and loud, the good and evil…but it also has a lot to do with faith and some spiritual aspects of the band.” – Lacey

After heading back to the drawing board to re-write certain songs and create other new ones totally from scratch, the band finally surfaced on October 19, 2006, with the release of a fully fleshed out ‘Sowing Season’ to serve as the lead single:

With a November release, The Devil and God earned a very warm critical reception, with most citing the quantum leap in artistic direction and ambition as evidence that the band had fully matured.  Since then, it has garnered even further praise – with many writers and fellow musicians eventually going on to anoint it as one of the best releases of its respective decade, and one of the most important and influential albums in alternative rock, post-hardcore and emo.  Brand New also currently points to The Devil and God as their favorite album, and the one that they are most proud of in hindsight.

The album featured more than just a newfound songwriting maturity, though.  The record’s main draw to its hardcore fans was the lyrics, which covered a wide range of topics that all fell under the topical umbrella of death, depression, religion, and the idea of existence itself.  ‘Jesus Christ’ (often shortened to just, ‘Jesus’) was the premier display of Lacey’s writing, serving as sort of a cynical open letter to God, in which the dictation of his lyrics could be perceived as either sacrilegious (“well Jesus Christ I’m alone again / so what did you do those three days you were dead, ’cause this problem’s gonna last more than the weekend”) or sincere (“Jesus Christ, I’m not scared to die, but I’m a little bit scared of what comes after”), depending on whether you view it as “taking the Lord’s name in vein” or as Jesse directly addressing his savior by his full name.  It’s this sort of depth and ambiguity that runs throughout the record, featuring a penchant for both darkness and light while leaving it up to the listener to determine what it all means.

And although The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me stayed mostly rooted in that densely introspective atmosphere, it did occasionally extend its reach into real world events that could be tied in with its themes, such as the death of seven-year-old Katie Flynn from the band’s hometown of Long Island.  Flynn suffered a tragic death while travelling home from a wedding with her family, as their limousine was struck by drunk driver Martin Heidgen only a couple miles from where Lacey was living at the time.  Flynn was decapitated in the incident, and her severed head fell into her mother’s arms.  Lacey narrates the track from multiple perspectives: Flynn’s mother, the drunk driver, and Katie.  The bridge repeats itself seven times, one for each year of Flynn’s life.  At nearly eight minutes in length, it was Brand New’s longest song until 2017’s ‘Batter Up.’

‘Limousine’ has gone a long way in many’s determination that Jesse Lacey is one of the most potent and emotional lyricists of our time, and it is also often cited as Brand New’s best song of all time.  Having crafted a series of epic, devastating songs, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me instantly went down as the band’s magnum opus – a feat that would ultimately define the band as well as lead to their gradual downfall.

As any artist can tell you, following up a career-defining release is no simple task.  Much in the same way that Lacey and company faced almost insurmountable expectations after Deje Entendu, such pressure was double-fold on the heels of TDAG.  Now, not only were they expected to create something musically inventive, but also lyrically life changing.  Having developed something of a reputation for innovation – with every album representing a stark creative departure and evolution in maturity – Brand New was standing upon their pinnacle wondering how to go even higher.  Ultimately, the realization that fighting themselves to somehow outdo their own legacy with every release was futile ended up resulting in Daisy – their most straightforward release since their debut.  It was a fiery, grunge-influenced burner of an album; one that Lacey aspired to be “fun to play live” with no real aspirations to make it somehow top the content and lyrical depth of TDAG.

At the time of its release, Daisy was hailed as a disappointingly “good” record against the backdrop of two exceptionally “great” predecessors.  Fans and critics bemoaned the relative simplicity of the lyrics, while still appreciating the band’s ability to once again reinvent itself.   As time went on, however, the record’s reputation grew – particularly within the band’s cult-like following.  The album’s fiery intensity and eerie sense of mystery lent it a unique allure, and years later many would name it a close second to TDAG, or even their personal favorite.

Daisy was indeed a different beast when compared to anything the band had offered before.  It was their loudest, most raucous, and careless showing of raw anger.  It felt like a defeated outpouring of all the band’s pent up rage and disappointment, and it showed in the blood-curdling screams of tracks like ‘Vices’, ‘Gasoline’, and ‘Sink.’  The album’s riff-filled, grunge-tinged nature indeed lent itself to very entertaining live shows, thus checking off a box that the band previously didn’t have in the wake of its more thoughtful, contemplative past releases.

While Daisy is, to this day, still casually referenced as the black sheep of Brand New’s discography, there is still a great deal of very “Brand New”-like traits hidden beneath the record’s facade as a straight-up, no-frills grunge-rock offering.  There are hidden messages littered throughout, namely within the unintelligible ‘Be Gone’ (which if you piece together the broken vocals contains lyrics about voices calling up from hell), ‘In a Jar’ (which has a verse that, when played in reverse, states “the chariots shall rage in the streets”), and the title track – which contains a preacher making reference to Just As I Am, a well-known hymn written by Charlotte Elliott in 1835 about how to find salvation through Christ.  Brand New proved that even when they wanted to just come right out and scream the pain away, that they simply couldn’t help themselves.  They were and are artists at heart, and there would never be such thing as “just a Brand New album.”  There was always something more – a mystery to be unraveled with time.

One such mystery surrounding the band was whether or not Daisy would mark their final departure.  Rumors began early after the record’s release, with many citing the eerie ‘Noro’ as the perfect swan song.  Such rumors would end up being lent serious credence in the wake of the eight year absence from music that followed the closing ticks of that track.

From 2009 to 2016, Brand New did not release another LP.  There was the occasional moment of intrigue, when Lacey would drop an ambiguous but ultimately meaningless hint, and there was the even rarer release of music that ranged from unreleased songs such as ‘Out of Range’ to standalone singles (‘Mene’, ‘I Am a Nightmare’).  Although some of these little gems found their way into the hearts of fans, there was an overwhelming feel – especially towards the latter portion of the eight year layover – that Brand New was simply done…and that if they did return for whatever reason, that their music would sound stale and forced – an assignment to get through rather than a genuine expression.

In typical Brand New fashion, their fifth and allegedly final album was released under the most unusual of circumstances.  After sharing a link to a document from their label promising a 2016 physical release, they stated that it ultimately would not be forthcoming, and that they were not happy enough with the product to call it a Brand  New album.  Then, following nearly an entire additional year of total silence, the band nonchalantly posted a link on social media in August of 2017 to pre-order a special vinyl copy of their fifth LP.  At the time many thought that this would be the only way to obtain it, as Brand New made no reference to any additional forms of release besides the limited vinyl pressing.

That same week, customers who pre-ordered the vinyl began receiving unlabeled CDs in the mail directly from the band, which inevitably led to hype and hysteria at a fever pitch amongst the band’s rabid fanbase.  Within hours it was leaked all over the internet, something that was obviously expected, and Brand New posted official links to download Science Fiction later that same day.  The unique and bold marketing strategy paid off, as Science Ficiton shot to #1 on the charts – becoming their first and most likely last number one showing.

Science Fiction also proved to be more than a victory lap created for the sake of one last round of sales and additional touring material.  Obliterating most fans’ expectations on the heels of some weak preceding standalone singles, the album offered a blend of styles from Deja Entendu, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, and Daisy.  It could be considered the first Brand New album that didn’t attempt to completely reinvent their sound, a criticism that while valid has mostly fallen on deaf ears in the midst of general appreciation for the mere existence of one last release.

Despite not offering up anything totally new, Science Fiction proved to be the ultimate form of fan service.  Tracks like ‘Can’t Get It Out’ tipped their hat to the many fans of Deja, while the searing riffs of ‘137’ and ‘Out of Mana’ were reminiscent of the TDAG days.   ‘451’ felt like the lost Daisy super hit.  It plays out like a career retrospective, and while it is still very young in the context of their overall discography, it will likely go down as one of the best Brand New albums.

Over the course of eighteen years and five albums, Brand New has proven to be a band worth revering.  Their influence and staying power across multiple genres has been well-documented, and if they do indeed disband, it will be a void that – after their long absences between releases – won’t necessarily be difficult to adjust to, but will certainly be felt…especially once fans know that the decision to hang up the mic is final.  Their entire career has been a series of surprises.  The way they burst onto the scene with the fun, angry punk flavor of Your Favorite Weapon.  The series of unexpected maturations between Deja Entendu and The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me.  The way we all felt when Daisy opened with that ridiculous opera passage only to explode into soul-torching screams of “we need vices!”  How we all thought Brand New was done and then they dropped Science Fiction out of the clear blue.  As a longtime fan of the band, I think that is what I will miss more than anything.  The way Lacey and company always kept us on our toes, guessing as to what was around the corner.  Throughout every twist and turn, they never once let me down.  So as we likely bid adieu to Brand New, I’ll offer a toast to wrap up this lengthy retrospective blog post: thanks for the memories Brand New, and best of luck in whatever surprises await your future.  I hope they are as good to you as you’ve been to your fans.

 

 





SowingSeason
09.29.17
Since the first installment was such a ~hit~...
But anyway I wanted to finish this, regardless of how unnecessary people think it is.

3waycrash
09.29.17
Fantastic second part to this. Very fitting tribute for a clearly important band for many and particularly you. I've been a fan of them for some time now, but I do have to thank you for your different reviews, write-ups, and comments on Brand New. They have helped me realize my love for the band, and appreciate them and their influence in my life even more.

Danred97
10.01.17
I'll never get sick of you writing about brand new. You're review of TDAG was what finally got me to give that album a proper listen, and now it's one of my favorite albums of all time. So, thanks for that Sowing.

SowingSeason
10.01.17
thanks both of you :-)

I know these write-ups probably won't unveil much new info, but it could be useful to site newcomers who only have vague familiarity with the band

matbla00
10.01.17
chapeau bas, Sowing

SowingSeason
10.02.17
:-) ty
Also FWIW if you haven't checked out the High & Low fest live set by these guys you should. That Soco clip is the encore from that show.



ironzeppelin789
10.09.17
Writing for the first time in 8 yearfor one of the best articles in while for one of the greatesrt bands of all time.

SowingSeason
10.09.17
thank you, that's some high praise. appreciate you reading.

juiceviaorange
11.11.17
Really awesome job, Sowing. I will miss them too. I've only been a fan since '06 (dang, 11 years though), but they have had such a huge impact on not only my music listening, but my life. A truly spectacular band that always did keep you guessing and wanting more. Like the best artists, authors, directors, etc. in the world, they always made you wonder what could have been in the blank spaces. Most importantly, who cares about those blank spaces - they left us with one brief, beast of a discography. My sneaking, non-fanboy, suspicions tell me that we're not through seeing these boys, but if this is goodbye, I'll raise my glass with you too.

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