Review Summary: Dark and dense, yet accessible, a shadowy air permeating every crevice where Jesse Lacey's plaintive and often tortured lyrics aren't already residing.
When Brand New released Deja Entendu in mid-2003, it caught a lot of their fans off guard. It found the band taking a stylistic leap forward from the clever (albeit cookie-cutter) pop-punk of their 2001 debut, exploring expanded sonic textures and indie rock overtones, their urgent choruses tempered by acoustic musings and softer introspections. It all seemed very deliberate yet completely natural all the same, and the record was an underground smash.
Something even more substantial was definitely brewing beneath the band's emo façade, and as a result, Brand New's follow-up was hotly anticipated for the three years it took the band to release it. The resulting The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me is the completion of their pop-punk molting process and one of the best surprises -- that isn't really a surprise at all -- to come out of 2006. Even when they were playing straightforward pop-punk ditties, Brand New had an edge to them that made them seem smarter than their peers; now they sound even older and stronger (and like they've been listening to a lot of '90s college and indie rock).
This record is dark and dense, yet accessible, a shadowy air permeating every crevice where Jesse Lacey's plaintive and often tortured lyrics aren't already residing. He draws listeners in with vulnerable ruminations and questions of love, death, self, and religion, and his vocal inflections bring as much meaning to the table as his carefully chosen words. The opening "Sowing Season" ebbs and flows steadily, moving along under light guitar before exploding with percussion, Lacey ably switching from a hushed delivery into an anguished cry of emotion before falling back down again effortlessly.
With it, Brand New sets up the somber intensity of the record straightaway. Textural and sonic layers unfold at every turn -- punching drums and trembling guitars here, aching vocals and subtle touches of string there -- and the album moves with a directed force that seems so naturally powerful and uncontrived, it's almost ridiculous to think that the band cut its teeth with poppy anthems like "Jude Law and a Summer Abroad." The Devil and God is not an album of hooks; the excellent percussive stomp of "The Archers Bows Have Broken" is the most immediate here, but songs get stuck in the brain nonetheless and demand repeated spins.
Old fans especially smitten by Deja's "Play Crack the Sky" have no excuse not to love everything about this record, as even lengthy tracks (like the near-eight-minute "Limousine" or the chill-inducing beauty of "Jesus") are completely compelling. People who were ready to discount Brand New into the emo/TRL heap of the 2000s better rethink their stance; Brand New seems to know exactly what they're doing and this record is a testament to their ability to stay true to themselves.
Whether they want to stay underground or fully break into the mainstream, this album has the potential to do either. Either way it doesn't really matter -- whatever happens, there's no denying how excellent this record is.