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Brand New Month – Part 4 of 4: Daisy

Posted by finedaysunday on August 25, 2013

For Jesse Lacey, Daisy represents a fulfillment of the journey that led Brand New through the troubled landscapes of The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. It’s fitting that Daisy most closely resembles that album from a thematic perspective. It approaches similar material, ranging from spiritual crisis and disillusionment to desperate and impotent fury at crumbling relationships. The difference may be that in searching for the answers, Daisy brings with it a sense of finality to the struggles that the band’s previous work was only just beginning to set up. Maybe the answers aren’t as easy or as rosy as we’d like. Maybe Daisy represents Brand New coming back down to Earth.

Brand New 4

The juxtaposition at play with Daisy may very well be that its relatable, human subject matter doesn’t always gel with its occasionally alienating and distant sound. This is a raw mix of instability, with tracks like “Vices” and “Gasoline” that seem more suited to violent moshing than quiet introspection. Remember the contrasting uses of sound levels in the last album? Here, the extremes tend to be pushed a few degrees further. The distortion is heavier. Lacey’s yelps of despair lend many tracks a less structured and rhythmic vibe.

I can very clearly remember my first impression of Daisy being “loud and sloppy”, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that until several more listens. This album was just as difficult to digest as T.D.A.G.A.R.I.M. Just when I thought I knew what to expect from these guys.

It’s not all pure chaos, of course. Daisy knows all too well that sometimes it’s the quiet moments in between, the ones that relieve the tension, that can matter the most. “Bed” and “You Stole” are both perfect expressions of that, and comforting reminders that Brand New are still masters of this use of dynamism. “Sink” boils down the jarring roller coaster use of sound of T.D.A.G.A.R.I.M. to its purest essence. “Be Gone” is an innovation I want to see more of, chopping up and warping Lacey’s voice and setting it against some good old blues-heavy guitar. Really.

Choosing a favourite track isn’t easy to pin down, but I’ve always loved the confident and twisted swagger of “At the Bottom”.

At last we come to “Noro”. Something you should know about my taste in music is that an album’s closer can single-handedly define my affection for the entire work. I consider it every bit as important as the introduction, sometimes even more so. By now, I had become accustomed to Brand New albums wrapping up with something subdued and maybe a little unstable. Instead, the lumbering and sure-footed repetition of “Noro” manages to shake up that tradition while still posing new variations of the bigger and more difficult questions that Brand New has been craving answers to for a decade. My takeaway from “Noro” is that they may finally be ready for those answers.

And so after the delightfully volatile angst of Your Favorite Weapon, the sincere exhalation of Deja Entendu and the unexpected success that came with it, the unabated terror of the Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, we arrive at the biting, impassioned, and admirably grounded Daisy. In many ways, this signifies the end of an era for one of my favourite bands. Brand New’s discography is quite literally the story of a group of boys growing into men. It’s a uniquely fascinating thing to behold, especially if you listen to these four albums consecutively as I so often do.

Jesse Lacey has gone on record describing Daisy as “like the end of a road”, the culmination of their ever-evolving sound that they have been working toward for years, but has also expressed a desire to explore other avenues they might have taken at earlier junctures in their career (a sort of “timeline split”, if you will). In other words, if Daisy is the ultimate expression of the goals that Brand New’s work has been leading up to, what might they have sounded like had they followed some of, say, Deja Entendu‘s headstrong indulgences instead? That’s purely wishful thinking on my part, but what is certain is that we haven’t heard the last of the boys from Long Island, and that can only be a good thing. Thank you for following along with me for Brand New Month. It’s been a thoroughly rewarding experience, and I hope you’ll stick around for whatever comes next.

“I’m a mountain that has been moved.”

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Brand New Month – Part 3 of 4: The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me

Posted by finedaysunday on August 18, 2013

“I’m getting depressed with all of the anxiety about the album and they say I write my best stuff when I’m in that state. Great, I’ll spend the next six months all depressed and the rest of band will be excited, so that some good (material) might come out. And then I have to contend with how it’s received.”

This was in 2004, when Jesse Lacey revealed his feelings of pressure and anticipation in an interview with Chart magazine, Two years later, the world was introduced to Brand New’s third studio album, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me.

One listen is all it takes to realize that suddenly all that distress made a lot of sense, even if ultimately there wasn’t much to worry about after all.

Brand New 3

If nothing else is certain by this point, it is that all traces of Your Favorite Weapon are completely gone. This album is a heavy sheet of existential despair wrapped up with doubt, sorrow, regret, and loss. Light, friendly pop? Musings on awkward teenage relationships? Those are a thing of the past. Instead we are now faced with Brand New’s most bleak and challenging work yet. There’s very little hope or optimism to be found here, but more importantly is the fact that the album never once cops out by trying to hind behind a mask of irony, any more than the previous two albums did. This is as earnest and vulnerable as it gets, and I admire that.

One common thread that holds T.D.A.G.A.R.I.M. (yeah, it’s just easier to call it that) is the use of dynamic, contrasting noise levels. The quiet moments are especially quiet, and the loud moments are so loud as to catch you off guard if you aren’t expecting them (almost jarringly so). Many of these instances are heralded by “tells”, such as Lacey’s yell in opener “Sowing Season”, the childrens’ choir in “Degausser”, or the wailing sirens of “You Won’t Know”. The most notable example of such a technique in “Luca” sneaks right up on you. Yeah, that’ll wake you up.

I believe every Brand New song is somebody’s favourite, but I’d be willing to bet that none are held in such high regard by more fans than “Jesus”. It might even be at the top of my own list had “Soco Amaretto Lime” not won me over long before I had reached this album. One of the few tracks not to use that contrasting sound technique mentioned above, it’s a beautiful, soothing piece that I take to be about a crisis of faith on the part of Lacey. Here, he leaves himself entirely emotionally exposed, more so than at virtually any point in Brand New’s history.

“Degausser” is another favorite of mine and, in the interests of full disclosure, was the first Brand New song I had ever heard. Recommended to me by a friend who introduced me to the band in the first place, I remember being hooked right away and eager to hear more. Imagine my surprise when I then started listening to Your Favorite Weapon and, well, yeah. It also gets credit as the first song I attempted to learn on a guitar (that reminds me, I really need to get back on that).

Remember last week how I mentioned that Your Favorite Weapon and Deja Entendu each contain some sort of instrumental jam that match the tone of their respective albums? Well, T.D.A.G.A.R.I.M. has two such pieces. Some might call that indulgent as all hell, but by now it should be obvious that one of Brand New’s greatest strengths is their ability to adapt to different stylistic tones with ease. On the one hand we’ve got “Welcome to Bangkok”, a rising crescendo of fury that perfectly illustrates this album’s use of dynamic, escalating sound. Then there’s “- -” (yes, they went there), a piece that is just as likely to soothe you to sleep as haunt your nightmares.

“Not the Sun” and “The Archers’ Bows Have Broken” are unique in that they possess a driving, kinetic energy (particularly on the drums) in an album characterized by a more deliberate and measured pace. The latter of the two especially grows on me more and more each time I listen to it. In an odd way, it’s one of precious few instances that the band comes up for air and manages to counter just a bit of the gloom that pervades so much of this album. Maybe that says a bit out me, a personal optimist, that I can consider this track one of my favourites while still thoroughly enjoying everything else T.D.A.G.A.R.I.M. has to offer.

Of course, it’s right back into the cold depths we go to close it all out. “Handcuffs” is a scary piece. Frantic, fragile, strained, and wrought with guilt and moral indecision, this song haunts me every time I hear it, like happening upon a dead forest or a decayed tree house, and yet it nearly always leaves me in a state of personal reflection. And those strings? Beautiful and mournful all at the same time. It was at some point during this song that I fully realized where Brand New wanted to go with their sound all along. They’re virtually unrecognizable as the band they were in 2000. In an astonishing six years, Lacey and company went from cheeky pop punk to The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, an emotionally draining album that somehow manages to be both abrasive and contemplative. I still don’t know how they pulled this off.

In the end, in an ironically happy takeaway from this album, Jesse Lacey may have burdened himself with all that weight on his shoulders for nothing. We’ll be finishing off Brand New Month next week. See you then.

“I’m just a man who knows how to feel.”

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Brand New Month – Part 2 of 4: Deja Entendu

Posted by finedaysunday on August 11, 2013

Less than two years was all it took for Brand New to finish writing their follow-up to Your Favorite Weapon. Looking back on their work now knowing where they’d eventually end up, I’d call Deja Entendu a period of transition. With a bit of time to spread out and draw influence from a number of different artists, they were able to craft something with a very strong range when really the whole thing could have just seemed schizophrenic instead. This one’s quite a bit harder to pin down than its predecessor, due to the eagerness with which each track sets its distinct tone. To put it simply, it’s impossible to confuse any single song here with another. It’s a bold move, one that might be considered a criticism if it were handled by less capable and meticulous hands. But Brand New embraces this opportunity to tackle bigger and more difficult material in a way that might surprise those who found Your Favorite Weapon to be a bit on the safe side. If you made one of those same people listen to Deja Entendu without any introduction, they might not even recognize it as the same band.

Forget everything you think you know about them.

Brand New 2

The album’s opening track, “Tautou”, is perfectly fitting, sending the message loud and clear that what you’re about to hear is going to take a turn for the somber and introspective. Following that is “Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades”, which shines a new light on similar subject matter left over from Your Favorite Weapon, namely the unglamourous and earnest awkwardness of one’s first sexual encounter. It’s a highly effective way to kick off an album that proves the band has had some time to mature and let their themes simmer a while, with heavy and sincere characteristics of the emo genre. Yes, Brand New’s stylistic direction from this point forward is very heavily emo, so deal with it, internet.

Jumping around a bit, “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” is the one you’re probably most likely to have heard on the radio at some point, and it played a significant role in the band grabbing serious attention in the mainstream. “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot” keeps the theme of fragile relationships going by channeling them through an acoustic-heavy ballad, in one of the few instances when Deja Entendu makes a close brush with something resembling cheerfulness.

As you can probably tell by now, I’ve got more thematic material to work with here than I did last week, but I don’t want this to turn into an aimless track-by-track review. So here’s my personal favourite song from this album presented without further description, “Jaws Theme Swimming”.

“Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis”, however, is one I do have to go into detail on. This might be the most difficult one to pin down, open to interpretation by its very nature. To me, it’s about a man (most likely Jesse Lacey himself) who feels remorse for his own womanizing ways, admitting guilt over how easy it is for him and how he has to fake being in love because it’s the only way he knows how. It’s pretty heavy stuff, but one listen is all it takes to see how it can just as easily be interpreted as something sleazier. Given everything this album is about, I’d still say the former is closer to Lacey’s intent.

“Guernica”, which Lacey wrote for his grandfather after the latter was diagnosed with cancer, is also notable for being the last time you’ll hear anything power chord-based from Brand New for a long time, if ever. Yeah, I said I didn’t want this to become a mundane track-by-track thing but bear with me. “Good to Know That If I Ever Need Attention All I Have to Do Is Die” (yikes, really?) brings a lot to the table. It’s moody, bitter, ambient, and relieving all at the same time. It allows Lacey and company a chance to get some breathing room and indulge in an extended jam session to close it out. They did something similar early on in Your Favorite Weapon, and in a way each one reflects its album’s overall tone.

Finally, we come to “Play Crack the Sky”. I was delighted to find another simple acoustic closer, and here we’ve got one with a much more free-form structure. Framing a damaged relationship with imagery of a disastrous and hopeless shipwreck, this may be as trembly and shaken as Jesse Lacey has ever sounded. It’s a very vulnerable piece, and I still can’t tell if the final refrain is supposed to be optimistic, regretful, or something else entirely. What I do know is that it’s a very sobering end to a terrific and layered album. So now that it’s clear that Brand New never had any intention of resting on their laurels after the first album, we also have some idea of where they always wanted to go next. And boy, is the third album ever the ultimate expression of that. Until next Sunday.

“And these are the words you wish you wrote down.”

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Brand New Month – Part 1 of 4: Your Favorite Weapon

Posted by finedaysunday on August 4, 2013

It’s Brand New Month here at FineDaySunday. Every Sunday this August, I’ll be taking a look back at Brand New’s albums one by one. My goal here is not to test if their work still holds up today (there’s no question that it does), but to hopefully lay out just how dramatically they’ve evolved since their debut album in 2001. One of the surest indicators of my respect for any artist is their ability to innovate and explore new ground (what’s up, Radiohead). This has been more or less a hallmark of Brand New’s ever-changing sound, and it started in the most unassuming manner imaginable.

Brand New 1

Your Favorite Weapon is, viewed from a distance, not too far off from the traditional light and harmless pop-punk fluff that was so dominant at the time. What really sets it apart is in the details, in frontman Jesse Lacey’s acidic and biting lyrics. In the broadest possible terms, this is teenage angst and frustration tinged with a reluctant optimism. Bitterness and dismissal is just as prominent as an awkward, childlike honesty. It’s a really disarming effect.

If Weezer’s Pinkerton is the perfect pop-punk album for being sad about girls (sorry Rivers, but it is), then Your Favorite Weapon is the genre’s gold standard for being mad about girls. Nearly every track has all the qualities of a condescending “call out” from the perspective of failed teenage relationships. Immature? Spiteful? Perhaps, but there’s nothing cynical or artificial about it, thanks in part to the album’s constant undercurrent of self-depracating positivity. The best art should be able to tell you about the artist themselves, and this is the perfect surface-level introduction to what sort of person Lacey is, or was, during those universal experiences we all went through as vulnerable teenagers. He’s a man whose work here is raw and relatable. He wears his heart on his sleeve, directly referencing his own love of The Smiths and Morrissey, which says it all right there.

The true centerpiece of the album can only be “Seventy Times 7”. What we have here is three and a half minutes of abrasive and condescending loathing, inspired by a damaged friendship between Lacey and John Nolan of Taking Back Sunday, a band with close ties to Brand New. Directed at Nolan personally, it’s as powerful and cutting as power chord-based pop music can get. The lynchpin comes in the song’s bridge, in which an initially subdued declaration by Lacey gradually escalates into an all-out tantrum. Everything Your Favorite Weapon is about, perfectly encapsulated in a single song. Brilliance.

Naming a Brand New album as my favourite is an impossible task, as my answer always changes when I listen to each one in turn. What is certain, however, is that this album’s closer is my favourite song, no question: “Soco Amaretto Lime” (check up top in the About Me section). Leave it to me to pick the simple, heartfelt acoustic track. When I listen to this song, I think of hanging out with friends as we tell stories, make memories, and generally make fools of ourselves. It’s always going to hold a powerful nostalgic pull over me.

And that’s Your Favorite Weapon. I chose the month of August to talk about Brand New because they’ve become a traditional “summer band” of mine, ever since I became a fan in late 2006. After this album’s sharp and pleasant reminder that pop rock can be light and fun without being saccharine and hollow, Jesse Lacey and company began taking progressively bigger risks. I admire them for it, because they could have easily produced material that stuck to the formula and style of their debut album (indeed, over the years, they’ve been deliberately distancing themselves from their early work during live shows, though they have compromised a bit on this recently). Instead, this collection of twelve tracks stands in sharp contrast to their more recent work, and it’s important to know the steps they took that led them in that direction. And that’s where we’ll pick up next week.

“We’re the coolest kids and we take what we can get.”

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Metal heavy, soft at the core

Posted by finedaysunday on June 9, 2013

In honour of …Like Clockwork‘s release this week, I thought I’d take a look back at the album that made me such a big fan of Queens of the Stone Age in the first place. That would be 2002’s Songs for the Deaf. Keeping the focus of this particular post on just the first two tracks, this album packs one of the best one-two punches in rock music I’ve ever had the good fortune of discovering.

Before it even starts, though, we’re introduced to the parody radio station the album uses as a framing device. Gimmicky, sure, and it’s been done before, but I can’t accuse it of taking anything away from the overall experience. If Josh Homme’s goal with these interludes was to set the scene of driving around lost in the desert, mission accomplished.

Enter “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire”:

35 seconds of setup later, in comes no less than Dave Grohl on drums. Shortly after that is the reason I use this track as my own personal morning alarm. That’ll get anyone out of bed mighty quick, let me tell you. It serves as the go-to first track on my personal motivation/workout playlist for pretty much the same reason. Loud, relentless, equal parts sloppy and methodical, a great way to let off some steam… pretty much everything I love about this group exemplified in less than three minutes of focused and calculated fury. Bassist Nick Oliveri simply owns his turn here on lead vocals, and I love the cheeky false ending. Overall, a fantastic way to set the tone, particularly because we then quickly change gears to…

“No One Knows”. This might be QotSA’s most well-known song, and I certainly count it among my favourites. The signature sleazy riff stands to me as one of the most instantly recognizable hooks of that decade of music, alongside System of a Down’s “B.Y.O.B.” Aggressive and smooth with an inexplicably appropriate touch of swing, this is something made as much for moshing at live shows as it is for straight-up dancing. My favourite part might be the heavy rhythmic crunching of the bridge right before Homme’s guitar solo. This, for me, is simply good mood music, almost cathartically so.

Queens of the Stone Age have maintained that same heavy riff-centric style to this day, while at the same time proving that a band can do so without seeming stagnant or regressive. Support from recurring contributors like Grohl and the haunting baritone of Mark Lanegan have helped cement this album as one of my favourites. Songs for the Deaf came out eleven (!) years ago, and it has only gotten better with age.

“We play the songs that sound more like everyone else than anyone else.”

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Living in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Posted by finedaysunday on March 24, 2013

About a year ago, I was introduced to the Slender Man phenomenon via a sepia-toned photo of bare trees with long, twisted branches. I spent what felt like several minutes trying to spot him somewhere in that tangled mess. Just as I was starting to suspect that this was one of those annoying “jump scare” GIFs, there he is holy crap right there in front of me I didn’t even see. I felt a sudden rising sensation of dread, something primal and apprehensive. I attribute my reaction in part to the fact that it was 3 a.m. at the time, but there was more to it than that. Something about that experience affected me more than I could have expected, and it wasn’t until much later that I realized why. Being introduced to Slender Man scratched the same part of my brain that this did:

The first time I heard this song, I was sitting alone in my car at night waiting to pick my sister up from work. This was no dusty vacant lot surrounded by miles of fields. This was a heavily populated mall parking lot right at closing time, and despite being surrounded by people, hearing this bizarre rushing and whirring emitting from the speakers set me on edge.

Everything about the buildup here fills me with anxiety, restlessness, and an alert suspicion. The static of what sounds like a demented disc jockey combined with intermittent rushes of air. The dissonant piano keys and gentle cymbals. The usually soothing voice of Thom Yorke had somehow been inverted, turned chillingly against me. Then at the 2:27 mark, it all comes to a head as the “chorus” heralds the sudden shift to recognizable forwards English. It’s an indescribably unsettling effect that deceives the listener’s expectations after spending so much time winding them up into a nervous knot, while still offering a gradual release softly back to earth.

I had been listening to each Radiohead album chronologically, and even though my assumptions of what to expect from the group had been shattered long before I reached this album, nothing could have prepared me for “Like Spinning Plates”. Whenever I see Amnesiac‘s cover art, this is always the song I think of first.

The story goes that the band was unsatisfied while working on a different song entirely, so they turned the tape around and listened to the melody in reverse. Yorke was pleasantly surprised at how much better it sounded that way and, learning the new vocal melody, sang the lyrics backward to match. Reversing that vocal track resulted in an eerie-sounding, though lyrically recognizable, “backwards” effect. I always love hearing “happy accident” stories in the creation of art, and this is among my favourites.

Kid A and Amnesiac are often generalized as that brief era in which Radiohead “went electronic”, and while there’s some truth to that, it’s important to remember that they had been experimenting to varying degrees for years by that point. But never before this terrifying period in the year 2000 had their work seen such a bold expressional shift. Abandoning the comfort zone of their far more accessible previous albums yielded some seriously mixed results. Whether some of those results leave you cold is up to you, but I consider “Like Spinning Plates” to be among the peaks of that era.

It even works well as a mournful, frantic piano ballad when Yorke plays it live:

Can I get away with one more? Let’s see if I can get away with one more. Have a listen to what these beautiful geniuses have done here:

Fantastic. I think it speaks volumes about a song’s strengths when it can be pulled into so many different directions while still maintaining its irresistibly eerie quality. And ever since that late night last year, every time I listen to it, I’m right back in the woods with Slender Man.

“While you make pretty speeches”

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