The Long Island boys of Brand New have come a long way since they wrote their first album six years ago. Their debut release, “Your Favorite Weapon,” was a collection of reeling, fumbling and glorious adolescent anthems. The sound was intense and unpolished and the genre was punk rock, but there was something more. These songs were filled with little touches that clearly transcended other run-of-the-mill punk rock songs. There were surprisingly beautiful, soaring harmonies. There were multiple vocal lines layered on top of one another. And there was unique instrumental punctuation, like moments where the drums would totally halt, emphasizing the pause of a particularly charged moment within a song. These progressive musical idiosyncrasies that had littered the rough-edged rock of their first album came more clearly into view in their second album, appropriately named “Deja Entendu.” This album was a major stylistic leap for Brand New. The sound was, without question, more mature, refined and polished. The chords were more complex – and so was the subject matter in the lyrics. While there were still songs about hating girls, the overall themes were darker, more complicated and more adult. The band had cleaned up their sound, brought out the complexities that made their first album so interesting to listen to, they even brought out an acoustic guitar – all this without sullying the high intensity of sound that had powered their music the first time around.
Brand New’s most recent release, “The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me,” is another stylistic leap for the band. The album overall is much darker, sadder and quieter than the previous two. Singer Jesse Lacey’s lyrics are pained, beautiful and poetic. “Is it in you now, To watch the things you, gave your life to broken? You stoop and build them up with worn-out tools.” The instrumentation shows more restraint, and the songs are very melancholy, but this makes the moments when the bridge comes crashing in with major chords to douse the minor mood viscerally relieving.
In several places on the album, the song will build to a smashing climax and then fall apart to a muddled soundscape of instrument noises, creating an effect reminiscent of The Mars Volta’s “Frances the Mute.”
While this is certainly not the Brand New of previous years, this album is fitting of their progression as a band, and after a few listens it clearly works. The overall sound, while definitely different, is obviously marked by qualities that Brand New listeners will be used to, such as the band’s often unorthodox song structure, how Lacey shapes his words or how the two guitars interact throughout the songs. A clear comparison can be drawn between some of the darker songs from previous albums, like “Me vs. Maradonna vs. Elvis” or “Soco Amaretto Lime,” and the overall sound on “The Devil and God.” While this is not a bad thing, fans will still be hungry for the band’s earlier, brighter sound.
The bottom line here is that this album is a fitting third step in the dark direction that Brand New is taking as a band. Brand New listeners may be disappointed at first, but this is a collection of beautiful, deep and dark songs that deserves, and almost requires, more than just a brief listen. Rosnick is a member of the class of 2009.