Posts Tagged ‘Brand New’
I’m sure you all have songs that just scream “summer.” This is one of them for me. Celebrate the start of summer with a little “Soco Amaretto Lime.”
A few days ago, I posted a video of Taking Back Sunday performing a delightful song on the children’s show Yo Gabba Gabba. In it, I may have unfairly maligned one of my personal heroes and a poet who speaks for our generation, Jesse Lacey. While it’s still true that I can’t envision him dropping the brooding, self-serious routine long enough to do something as great as “We All Love Our Pets,” he’s still capable of breaking out of his shell just a skosh, in his own gruff sort of way. In that spirit, here’s Jesse Lacey talking to Marvel.com about the mad titan Thanos and his favorite Daredevil comics.
Hat-tip to my pal Nick, the Official Philadelphia Correspondent for Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun, for this one. I’m sure I’m late to the party on emo mashups, but what else is new with this sucky blog? The concept of this sort of thing is obviously right up my alley, but I feel like the execution in this case could be a little better. Still pretty awesome, though!
Anyway, listen to, um, “The Quiet Infidelities That No One Ever Screams.”
1) Brand New, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me (2006)
After a month and a half of this endeavor, you might have come to the conclusion that there’s a lot of crap on this list. I love every album on the list dearly, but I’m self-aware enough to admit that I wouldn’t go to a wine and cheese party and try to wax philosophic about the subtler nuances of Taking Back Sunday.
As I said in this week’s vital interpolation, and this should have come as a surprise to no one, taste in music is subjective. And so while I chafe slightly at the judgment of sundry music snobs looking down their nose at the music I like, it usually rolls of my back quickly when I realize that everyone likes crap in some form or other, including the snobs. I try to avoid proclaiming that the stuff I like is any better or worse than the stuff you like, because really, who are any of us to judge?
All of this is to say, were I to find myself at a wine and cheese party and someone broached the topic of the best albums of the Zeroes, I would probably wait around patiently, noshing on my smoked gouda-on-a-table-water-cracker before politely interjecting, “Yes, This Is It was a very good album, but did you listen to The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me?”
Devil and God puts me in mind of the great paradox that we all find ourselves in w/r/t our favorite bands. On the one hand, there’s a reason you love them, so you want to hear the same, consistent sound. Of course, the band that stays consistent opens itself to accusations of being a one-trick pony, a trite and hackneyed joke. On the other hand, we like our bands to grow and develop. But if a band strays too much from the winning formula, well, “howling fantods” isn’t a strong enough term to describe our reaction. (I can’t count how many different people listed “old Blink-182″ as a favorite band in their AIM profile after Enema of the State came out.) So, in review, we want our bands to keep the same sound that made us fall in love with them, but also to develop and advance musically. Got it?
I think this desire for our favorite bands to grow (if it’s not something I completely invented) is kind of like a security blanket. We get to cling to the bands of our youth, but it’s not pathetic, because look, they’re actually a better band than they were when I started listening to them. If our bands don’t grow with us, it’s like a betrayal. We’re forced to look into the eyes of our own mortality and admit that there are some things that have to be left in the toybox. Take it from me: I just spent a month littering the tubes with however many words about emo records from eight years ago.
When Devil and God came out at the end of 2006, Brand New fans were almost at the end of their ropes. It had been more than three years since the release of their sophomore effort, the excellent Deja Entendu. Which would be fine, were it not for the band’s notoriously reclusive nature. There were no dates, no news, no nothing until early 2006, when nine untitled demos recorded for the new album leaked onto the Internet. (Incidentally, shortly thereafter I found myself sitting at a bar in Providence, Rhode Island, after the first show Brand New had played in almost two years, with lead guitarist Vin Accardi. [This is like, the only name-dropping story I have, so please indulge me. And Linda, please corroborate this in comments.] He said that one of the tech guys in the studio had had those demos [which took on the moniker Fight Off Your Demons, after the band's new URL, and is a pretty damn good album in its own right] on an iPod, which he proceeded to accidentally leave in a pizza parlor, where it was somehow picked up by some enterprising fan who proceeded to put them on the Internet. It seemed like a far-fetched story, to say the least.)
Long story short, Brand New’s third album was much-anticipated, and I bought it the minute it came out. I can’t lie: I was underwhelmed! It was too dark. It was too much of a departure from the band’s emo roots. I took to heart criticisms like those leveled in Rolling Stone’s dismissal of the album: “But the selling—and sticking—point is still dark drama, with shadowy, shimmery textures, agonized choruses and frontman Jesse Lacey yowling away and dropping ponderous poetry like a guy with his heart on his sleeve and a couple of philosophy books on his shelf.” I had the reaction of a self-loathing pop punk fan: it was inconceivable that an emo band I liked could produce a serious piece of art.
I’ve been beating this quote into the ground, but it’s always been true: the songs you grow to like never stick at first. The more I listened, the more every track grew on me, to the point where I would just listen to the whole thing all the way through. That’s right: there’s no skippable song. Not only was the music masterful; that could have been expected, based on the leap Brand New made between Your Favorite Weapon and Deja Entendu. Not only were the words poetry; Jesse Lacey is a crafter of lyrical miracles. No one disputes this. I guess I just wasn’t prepared to encounter an actual thought-provoking album, where I would find myself thinking about the songs long after I stopped listening. Is it so bad for a songwriter to have his “heart on his sleeve and a couple of philosophy books on his shelf”? That’s a couple more philosophy books than most people have!
So, what happens when an emo band grows up? They find God, in a manner of speaking. (You couldn’t tell from the title of the album?) Yes, Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun’s favorite album of the decade is also the most existentially dreadful one on the list. It’s refreshing, in its way. I understand that not a lot of people are going to the Billboard charts for their theology, but on the other end, there’s not a whole lot of critical thought regarding religion going on in popular music these days. It’s like Kanye says: “They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus. / That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes, / But if I talk about God my record won’t get played.”
I won’t dissect entire album’s various religious messages, just what I think is the main one: redemption, and its possibility or lack thereof. In the second track, “Millstone” (that’s an allusion to Mark 9:42, for those scoring at home: “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck”), we get the first seed of doubt: “I used to pray like God was listening,” Lacey laments, before a uh, fine point is put on things in “Jesus.” The song is one side of a conversation between our protagonist and Our Lord and Savior himself, asking all the usual questions: “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. / Well Jesus Christ I’m not scared to die. / I’m a little bit scared of what comes after: / Do I get the gold chariot? / Do I float through the ceiling? / Do I divide and pull apart?”
At the end, we get to Lacey’s view of the relationship between Christ and ourselves: “And I know you think that I’m someone you can trust, / But I’m scared I’ll get scared / And I swear I’ll try to nail you back up . . . / But we’ve all got wood and nails. / We don’t turn out hate in factories.” Say what you will about how crummy Christianity has been and continues to be, but I think we can all agree that Jesus was a pretty righteous dude. To imply that after 2,000 odd years, we would still be compelled to fear and punish that kind of goodness, and further, that the spark of hatred and violence doesn’t come from the outside, but rather burns in every man’s heart, says a lot about Jesse Lacey’s low opinion of humanity in general. Is he right? Do each of us have wood and nails?
Clearly, mankind is still in need of redemption, but you won’t find a ton of it in The Devil and God. (To wit, in “You Won’t Know,” for instance, we learn that “They say in Heaven there’s no husbands and wives. / On the day that I show up they’ll be completely out of their forgiveness supplies.” Oh well, right?) Fortunately, we hear from JC himself later on in the album, which leads me to my
Signature track: Limousine
“Limousine” is a song about a young girl named Katie Flynn who was killed in a drunk driving accident on Long Island in 2005. It’s a terrible enough story, some of the details of which are recounted here, to inspire a complete stranger to write a haunting, powerful song about it. There’s an interpretation of “Limousine,” which I’ll run with here, that says the song features the voices of the three principles in Katie’s story. The first long, chant-like portion of the song is supposed to be her mother. The second, a prayer from her killer. And finally, Katie speaks in the muted portion behind the frenetic climax of “Limousine,” reflecting on the life she’ll never get to actually live: “I’ll never have to buy adjacent plots of earth. / We’ll never have to rot together underneath the earth. / I’ll never have to lose my baby in the crowd. / I should be laughing right now.”
(I encourage you to watch the band play this song live. That link is from a show I actually went to a few months ago. It’s eerie and moving stuff, and probably the closest thing I’ve seen to a collective spiritual experience at a rock show.)
I’m most concerned with that middle part, though: “Dear Beauty Supreme, / Yeah you were right about me. / But can I get myself back from underneath this guilt that will crush me? / And in the choir I saw our sad messiah. / He was bored and tired of my laments. / Said, ‘I’d die for you one time but never again.’” Never again. Ouch. A lot of us consider God or Jesus or whoever as an all-forgiving, all-redeeming presence, and there are certainly arguments for that way of thinking. Taken rationally, though (and I know that’s a lot to ask of religion [I don't mean that as a dig!]), the question Lacey is asking here is, what more can we ask of Christ? If dying for us isn’t enough to get humanity on the right track, what else is there that a savior can do? Of course, it’s catechismical common sense that the whole redemption thing is a two-way street: God will take care of you if you do your part. Lacey takes a bit of a more pessimistic position: if you were hoping for a higher power to look out for you, you might be out of luck.
At first blush, this is a tremendous downer. And I’ll offer my amateur, theological know-nothing interpretation of Jesse Lacey’s lyrics, but I won’t speak for whatever kind of faith the man has in his heart. He may very well believe that there’s no hope for us at all, and considering that the types of tragedies that took the life of Katie Flynn are happening every day all over the world, it’s understandable that he would think that’s the case. I take a more affirmative message from “Limousine,” and from the whole album in general. I sort of kind of addressed this issue back in the day on this blog’s earlier iteration, w/r/t Barack Obama’s election, and the perfectibility of our union, but there’s a message there that applies to the conduct of our lives in general: “Thou mayest rule over sin.” Or thou mayest not. It’s up to you. If God isn’t listening, and if Christ died for us one time but never again, then that means that if we’re to be redeemed, we’re going to have to do it ourselves. Making ourselves, and our world, better is our own responsibility, and no one else’s. And if it turns out that God is there, we’ll have done right by him. Feather on.
Vital interpolation to Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun’s Favorite Albums of the Decade: A Music Is My Imaginary Friend Event
This might be a bit of a spoiler for old friends of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun, so if the end of this list being a surprise is important to you, feel free to skip this post. I can’t imagine that anyone out there in Internet land actually cares the much, but I figured I would alert anyone that does.
Basically, Brand New’s Your Favorite Weapon isn’t Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun’s Favorite Album of the Decade, and I thought it would be nice to explain why. Since, as those aforementioned old friends of DD&U can attest, Your Favorite Weapon not only got me into the whole emo/pop punk scene, but it’s probably the seminal album of my late-teen/young adult life.
There was about a two-year period while I was in college for which Your Favorite Weapon provides an almost perfect archaeology. At one point or another, each track held profound meaning for me. Jude Law and a Semester Abroad. Sudden Death in Carolina. Failure By Design. Soco Amaretto Lime. And, of course, Seventy Times 7. There was something in all of these songs that I deeply identified with. I won’t bore you with the details, but feel free to listen through and try to piece together a psychological profile.
You might ask, precious reader, how I could leave off the list an album that came the closest an album can come to changing my life? It may sound anticlimactic, but that part of my life is over. I’ve made my peace with the cast of characters who gave that part of my life, and hence the album, the meaning that it had. I wish I could give you a better explanation than the water has flowed under the bridge, but thems the facts. I’ve grown up, and mellowed out. Your Favorite Weapon has become less a description of my life than a relic.
This post, characteristic of the music it’s describing, is tending toward melodrama, which leads to the larger point I wanted to make. See, I still listen to Your Favorite Weapon. Consistently. I love it. So if I feel like I’ve grown up, how come I still find myself drawn to this type of music?
The biggest knock against emo/pop punk bands like old-school Brand New, Dashboard Confessional, Taking Back Sunday, and their ilk is that the music is flamboyantly maudlin at best, and dangerously self-indulgent and immature at worst. There are too many gravely important things going on in the world, too many people with actual real-life problems, to take seriously some indie-acoustic troubadour on stage complaining about how another girl broke his precious little heart. People who have criticized my taste in music have almost all, to a man, brought up this navel-gazing conceit. That shit might fly for high school girls, but not for grown-ups.
There’s a way in which I shouldn’t even really have to mount a defense. I like this music. I just do. Taste in art in general, and music in particular, is one of the most subjective things there is. This is why I try not to be too critical of what I might think is someone’s bad taste in music, because they might think the same thing about me, and would I be able to conceive of an adequate and persuasive argument if that were the case? Probably not!
But I do think the critique about emo music being self-indulgent is salient and worth at least going a little deeper into. It’s a true fact that if your best friend dating your ex-girlfriend, or your girlfriend cheating on you is your biggest problem, then you’ve probably got a not so bad life, relatively speaking. Which is true! The emo critic goes on, though, to imply that the emo fan shouldn’t waste his time with such whiny dreck. Or, at least, that he has bad taste for wasting his time with such whiny dreck. And, if the criticism goes to its conclusion, the emo fan has a warped set of priorities because he likes music about guys lamenting their broken hearts while there’s actual, real suffering going on in the world. I’m not setting up a strawman here; I’ve heard this kind of thing!
The way I see it, I can afford to identify with and find meaning in this type of music, and I count my blessings every day for that fact. See, I’m a grown man: I’m not so naive as to believe that my problems, and the problems that are the fodder of emo songs, are the worst things ever. Listening to emo and pop punk music, far from being an exercise in woe-is-me self-indulgence, actually offers me perspective as to how good I’ve actually got it. It makes me thankful for the opportunities I’ve been afforded, and appreciative of people who have faced obstacles that I’ll never have to. As I said, if the worst that can happen so far is I have a spat with a pal, then things must be going alright.
Am I overthinking this? Of course I am! It’s just emo music, guys. And for those of you who think all of this is BS and want to continue to poke fun at my lame tastes, check out Emocapella, George Washington University’s all-emo acapella group. I assure you that they’re everything you could possibly imagine.
My buddy Reeves over at Meanderings does this thing from time to time called Aural Stories. Long story short, he highlights songs that have a strong narrative element. Actually, that was a short story to begin with. Here’s a quick one about Weezy. It’s a neat idea, so I’m promoting it. But with a twist. I’m going to talk about a song that USED to have a strong narrative element.
Regular readers of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun know that I’m a demo fiend. If the production values aren’t real good, if the song was recorded in a hotel room on the European tour, or if most of the lyrics are completely different, then I want it. I gotta have it! I just find it fascinating to see the creative process in action.
Sometimes, unfortunately, you come to discover that the demo is, in fact, better than the track that makes it onto the album. Brand New’s “Untitled 09,” from the Fight Off Your Demons samizdat, is a classic example. Here’s the demo . . .
. . . which is like, one of my favorite Brand New tunes. Now listen to “The Archers’ Bows Have Broken,” from 2006’s The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, and keep an ear out for the one bit that they pulled out of the demo.
Great song, indeed. But . . . the demo was better!
Which leads me to Dashboard Confessional’s “Rooftops and Invitations.” It’s on Dusk and Summer. Listen to a little live rendition:
Great tune, right? I’ve felt that way for years. Then, one day, I got a link from Chris Carrabba’s Twitter feed about a couple “Rooftops and Invitations” demos. Here’s the most polished version.
Notice how different it is? And like, better?
Firstly, the album version’s hook
She just might get you lost
And she just might leave you torn
But she just might save your soul
If she gets you and she, gets you any closer
doesn’t even exist. And the rest of the verses are all mixed up. What you’ve got between the album’s track and the demo is the difference between a song with some hooky lyrics, and an actual story.
She leads you up, points out skylines and steeple chases,
All lace in secret places she moves you to touch with her hand.
The city longs well for water and conversation, rooftops and invitations to stay for the night, in her bed
Under the cool sheets where the welcome touch of skin and skin will meet.
Hot on the inside where the girl’s prize is at the tip of your tongue.
Sweet, and pure, and longing for your deep embrace.
You’ve listened to both tracks. How much hotter and more soulful is the demo? It’s not even close, right? “Rooftops and Invitations” the album track is a song that I wouldn’t skip on a shuffle. “Rooftops and Invitations” the demo is a song that’s been burning a hole in my iPod for the past week. And I’ve been operating with only one working earphone!
That’s why being a demo fiend is such a double-edged sword. Yeah, sometimes, you find a gem like this one. But then you realize you live in a world where Chris Carrabba thinks a great song needs to be made worse to make it onto his album. Kinda sad.
Did you wake up this morning and feel like life was a little more worth living? Like existence had a little bit more meaning? Like you had a purpose that, for once, you felt like you could fulfill?
You should have. Brand New released a new album today, Daisy. Almost three years ago, upon the release of the last Brand New album, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, the guys from Straylight Run said that Brand New is the band that will save us all. It’s as true today as it was when it was written.
Regular readers of Dangerous, Dirty, and Unfun will recognize that during the formative years of DD&U’s development, when all sorts of trivial-in-retrospect-but-vitally-important-at-the-time things were happening, Br& Nizzy was the band that spoke with the greatest clarity and meaning. And they’ve only gotten better. Listen to the new album’s first single, “At the Bottom.”
I don’t want to say that I’m a lazy blogger, but I don’t know how to finish this sentence.
# I don’t know the parameters of this contest, so maybe it makes a lot of sense that the lamest joke I’ve ever heard is the best joke in England. Is it bad that I groaned at all of the winners, but legitimately laughed out loud at the crackling gag?
# Here’s a rare interview with Jesse Lacey, lead singer of Brand New and crafter of lyrical miracles.
# My jaw almost hit the floor when I read this: the WWE is thinking of creating a channel to broadcast their classic matches and pay-per-views. I’m giddy with anticipation. Youtube is great, but this is the sort of thing that needs to be seen on my 57 inch TV. (h/t to the Sports Guy.)
The new Brand New album comes out September 22. This is the music that will save us all.
In the meantime, watch one of the awesomest videos ever.