The 12 best songs by Brand New
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Few rock bands have reinvented themselves as successfully as Brand New. Starting life in Long Island as a fairly unremarkable pop-punk band in 2000, over the years the band – vocalist/guitarist Jesse Lacey, guitarist/vocalist Vincent Accardi, bassist Garrett Tierney and drummer Brian Lane – have carefully evolved and reinvented their sound, garnering the kind of universal critical acclaim that tends to elude bands of the alternative scene and releasing an album, third record 'The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me', that transcends all boundaries to truly stand as a visionary masterpiece of modern music.
That’s not to say their other albums aren’t good – both 2003’s second effort, Déjà Entendu, and 2009’s Daisy are very good indeed – but neither quite reach the dizzy heights of the record that came between them. That’s why the top half of this list is entirely comprised of songs from that record, but that certainly shouldn’t negate how good the other songs on this list are. Rather, it should help make sense of their progression, and the steps they took to become the band they are today...
**12. SEVENTY TIMES 7 **(Your Favorite Weapon, 2001)
If Brand New’s debut record, Your Favorite Weapon,* *was under-developed, somewhat generic pop-punk, its songs were at least noteworthy for the bitter vitriol of their lyrics. Jesse Lacey didn’t hold anything back at all, wishing death and destruction upon those – mainly girls, but also Taking Back Sunday’s John Nolan, his former best friend. “And now I know I want to kill you/Like only a best friend could,” vents Lacey over a chugging pop-punk riff, after the pair fell out over a girl (it’s a long, and probably still-libellous story, so better to look it up if you don’t know the history). While the song is certainly an important moment in the band’s history, it’s those vicious, vindictive lyrics that elevate it above any contemporaries in the pop-punk scene they were a part of at the time.
**11. JUDE LAW AND A SEMESTER ABROAD **(Your Favorite Weapon, 2001)
Proving that his vitriol wasn’t just limited to Mr Nolan, Lacey outdid himself with this epic and unforgiving death wish aimed at a girl who’d left him behind in the States to study in England. “And even if her plane crashes tonight/She'll find some way to disappoint me,” he laments over a breakneck, upbeat tune, “by not burning in the wreckage/Or drowning at the bottom of the sea.” The better version is actually an acoustic session version released as a limited, vinyl only b-side to The Quiet Things That No-One Ever Knows, from 2003’s second album, Déjà Entendu. More glum, miserable and raw than the original, it turned the song into something more in keeping with the significant shift in musical direction of that album.
10. VICES (Daisy, 2009)
The first song on Brand New’s third record is only three minutes and 24 seconds, and the first minute and 24 of that are taken up by a gloriously old gospel hymn from the 1920s called On Life’s Highway. A woman’s voice warbles over a piano, reaching magnificent heights until, suddenly, there’s a crash and bang and the band launch into a fevered burst of hardcore punk that sounds more like Mclusky than any previous incarnation of Brand New, giving birth – once again – to a whole new sound.
**9. I WILL PLAY MY GAME BENEATH THE SPIN LIGHT **(Déjà Entendu, 2003)
Brand New’s second album marked a huge graduation in terms of both style and maturity. Its songs were still largely preoccupied with break-ups and heartache, but personal and existential insecurities were creeping into the lyrics. Not only this, but the band’s songwriting was becoming more complex and layered. This song, for example, starts as a gently lilting acoustic number that gathers pace (and angst) until it bursts and explodes in sad euphoria with a truly majestic and dramatic musical climax. Lyrically, too, this song finds Lacey on particularly fine form, veering between the playful (“If looks could really kill/Then my profession would be staring”), the witty (“I wrote more postcards than hooks/I read more maps than books/Feel like every chance to leave/Is another chance I should have took”) and the downright morbid (“Collect calls to home/To tell them that I realise/That everyone who lives will someday die/And die alone”).
8. OKAY I BELIEVE YOU BUT MY TOMMY GUN DON’T (Déjà Entendu, 2003)
After *...Spin Light *abruptly ends, this song’s sinister warning kicks in immediately, revealing a darker and more dangerous edge to this new Brand New sound. “I am Heaven sent,” sings Lacey over chugging, muted power chords. “Don’t you dare forget.” Later, proving he can be just as malicious and spiteful as on that first record, he produces some more death wishful thinking: “Hope you come down with something / They can't diagnose, don't have the cure for.” As the manipulative personality of its protagonist plays out, the song then somehow manages to transform its darkness into soaring euphoria, but behind brave faces, everything is collapsing and falling apart.
7. SIC TRANSIT GLORIA… GLORY FADES (Déjà Entendu, 2003)
The first song proper on Brand New’s second album is an epic tale about first time sexual encounters and the emotional turmoil and turbulence that ensues as a result of not being read. In a twist on the traditional stereotype, though, it’s the boy in the song who’s portrayed as the victim (“He is the lamb/She is the slaughter/She's moving way too fast and all he wanted was to hold her”). Of course, the song’s not just about getting laid, but extends way beyond that to become a heavy metaphor for life and the loss of innocence (sexual and otherwise). That’s confirmed by the Latin part of the title, which is extracted from the full phrase ‘*Sic transit gloria mundi’ *and which is translated as ‘Thus passes the glory of the world.’ In other words – we’re all fucked.
6. THE ARCHERS BOWS HAVE BROKEN (The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, 2006)
It’s very difficult to break Brand New’s third record down into pieces – it exists as one cohesive body of work that encompasses the whole of human existence and beyond. Although the leap from *Your Favorite Weapon *to *Déjà Entendu *was significant, nothing could have prepared anybody for what came next. *The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me *didn’t just break a thousand boundaries, but turned Brand New into a universally acclaimed act whose influence reached far beyond the limits of the alternative/heavy music/pop-punk/emo scenes. This song – and let’s put that grammatical error in the title aside – is, among other things, an examination of how people use religion for their own benefit, eschewing the pure and well-intentioned teachings of the prophets in favor of self-serving purposes. That’s something laid out in the first verse – “Who do you carry the torch for, my young man?/Do you believe in anything?/Do you carry it around just to burn things down?” – and confirmed slightly later through the reference to the Christian Right’s invocation of God into American politics: “The God I believe in never worked on a campaign trail.” It could, of course, also be a reference to the internal battle outlined by the album’s title. Regardless, the song’s dramatic and urgent tune is underpinned by tumbling drums and a constant rush of invigorating noise. In other words, it’s the sound of nihilism and religion converging, and the world burning down as a result.
5. LUCA (The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, 2006)
Dark yet gentle, Luca is one of the most ominous tracks on Devil And God, its lilting tune betraying the sinister goings on beneath it. Named after Luca Brasi, a character from The Godfather who’s drowned with a pair of cement boots, the song is an amalgam of imagery and ideas, from religious isolation to moral absolution to a verse inspired by Brasi himself: “So we fixed you with cement galoshes/No one can save you now/Unless you have friends among fish/There'll still be no air to breathe.” Of course, that also all works as a metaphor for the album’s central struggle – the internal fight between good and evil, right and wrong, that each and every one of us faces to varying degrees in our lives every day. Is there a plea for God to help the protagonist out of that moralistic conundrum? Quite possibly: “So drop me a line with a hook and some raw bleeding bait,” pleads Lacey, “for I am uncaught and still swimming alone in the lake.” Yet if he feels isolated by his previous actions, there’s also no saving him – just as it goes deadly quiet, the song kicks in with a burst of unrepentant noise that shocks as much as it does on the hundredth listen as it does on the very first, and which confirms that, forgiven or otherwise, the sins of the past will always remain.
**4. MILLSTONE **(The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, 2006)
Caught between the nostalgia and regret of the past and the truth of the present, Millstone *is one of the more straightforward songs on *Devil And God. Like the rest of them, it deals with an internal moralistic struggle, but one divided simply between the past and the present. To some extent, then, it’s a continuation of the innocence versus experience theme present in Sic Transit Gloria…, detailed through a life of too much sleeping around – “I used to know the name of every person I'd kissed/Now I've made this bed and I can't fall asleep in it” – and with a much heavier focus on the weight of religious expectation. It’s a weight that’s both literal and metaphorical, and which pulls down against the relative breeze of the understatedly epic tune: “I'm my own stone around my neck.”
**3. JESUS **(The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, 2006)
Although it’s impossible to escape the religious connotations of this song – given that it pretty much takes the form of a conversation with Jesus Christ – it doesn’t require any belief to understand or like it. Because, much like the rest of the album the song is from, it’s not a song driven so much my belief as it is a song about wrestling with your spiritual and religious convictions. In other words, there’s more doubt here than there is faith, the protagonist’s insecurities, fears and uncertainties set to a truly beautiful and graceful tune: “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 fall apart?” There is, of course, no answer. But, perhaps, given the nature and title of the record, that very silence *is *the answer to his questions.
**2. DEGAUSSER **(The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, 2006)
A collision of hope and despair, the narrative of *Degausser *might be (surprise, surprise!) muddied and abstruse, but it’s clear that the song is being sung by a tortured, suffering soul, whether in the spiritual plain or in the physical world. It’s a song that’s about losing faith, and losing love and losing faith in love and wondering just how you’re ever going to get it all back while thinking that you probably aren’t. Yet as much as everything has collapsed in an apocalyptic hurricane of sound – accentuated by the presence of a children’s choir (there’s that innocence/experience motif again) – it’s only going to get worse: as the intense crescendo fades to nothing, there are just two simple lines repeated, almost half-heartedly in fear of what they mean and what they’ll bring: “The storm is coming/The storm is coming.”
1. LIMOUSINE (The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, 2006)
If the vast majority of Devil And God brings intangible and abstract concepts and lofty spiritual and existential crises to life, this is one song about a very specific incident. After a wedding in Long Island in 2005, a limousine carrying a family was heading home when it was hit by a drunk driver. The limo driver was killed instantly, while seven year-old Katie Flynn was decapitated. Allegedly, her mother ran out of the car to look for her daughter, found her head lying in the middle of the road, and then sat on the curb holding it, while rescue workers cut her daughter’s body and other stuck members of her family out of the wreckage. It’s an incredibly tragic tale, but one which the song addresses with tact and graceful poeticism. It’s not gratuitous or exploitive, but wholly empathetic, tracing the incident from start to finish from the mother’s point of view, and then the drunk driver’s. It doesn’t go into detail – you’d have to know the story to make the associations – but suffice to say it’s dark and foreboding stuff, delving deep into the psyches of parent and murderer, excavating and extracting the different types of grief, sorrow and regret they both feel. As the song swells in volume, the line “I love you so much, but do me a favour, baby, don’t reply, ’cause I can dish it out but I can’t take it” is repeated over and over, counting up to seven, the age that Katie died. Quite who is talking to whom is unclear – is it her mother talking to her? Katie talking to her mother? Her mother talking to God? – but there’s no doubt about the horrifying nature of what’s happened. And as the song descends into a whitewashed ball of noise, the lives that have been wrecked swirl around in the feedback, ready to haunt the world forever.