To date, in my opinion, Brand New has not put out a single bad record. However, when I heard that Daisy, their fourth full-length release, had landed, I was a bit reticent to listen at first. You see, ever since their sophomore release, Deja Entendu, Brand New has become increasingly complex, and that complexity requires you to approach their records like you were reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
I’ve followed Brand New for nearly 7 years now and admit that I am a bit of a fan (I am probably one of only a few people in the world to have tracks from The Rookie Lot on MP3). Brand New’s debut, Your Favorite Weapon was the album that really hooked me on music my senior year and set me down a road of evolving interests from punk to electronica to rap to classic rock. This experience made me incredibly eager to review the band’s latest release as I felt I both enjoyed their work and could approach it critically.
When I finally listened to Daisy I found myself reacting in that old familiar way. Like when I put down Deja Entendu after a single listen, before listening to the entire album two months later and falling in love. Like when I listened to God and the Devil Are Raging Inside Of Me and felt initially let down that many of the excellent demoes were dropped for more obtuse tracks.
But this time I didn’t stop listening to the record. I kept ploughing through. And what I found is that Daisy, like a great work of literature, is dark and exhausting, yet utterly brilliant.
Fig. 1 Daisy‘s album art, courtesy of Brand New.
If there’s one thing Brand New’s records represent, it’s that they’re completely selfish, making music for their own love of it, not yours. Daisy marks the final chapter in Brand New’s metamorphesis from a pop-punk band into avant-garde post-punk veterans. The transformation, long ongoing, has been alarming to the bands fans, causing many to desert. However, the maturation also has allowed a case to be made that Brand New is a great band, where once-peers like Taking Back Sunday failed to evolve and today remain in unidimensional mediocrity. Brand New’s new record basically tells fans, what Billy Corgan oft remarked to his own pissed off fans at Smashing Pumpkins shows, “Hey, we came here to rock, and if you didn’t, then why don’t you just go find your car in the parking lot and leave.”
The opening track “Vices” begins with a haunting high-range vintage track from the old antique record “On Life’s Highway” [written by Bertrand Brown]. After about a minute, the music lulls and then guitars explode accompanied by Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey’s agonized howls.
Brand New fans will find the track quite unfamiliar. The screaming is louder and shriller and less melodic than on almost any past track by the band. And it’s utterly noisy and distorted. The tracks is a bit like goth-punk band AFI’s return to screaming, only with a thick layer of noise laid on top. Yet for such a chaotic arrangement it’s strangely enthralling. When you’re all alone, you’ll find yourself humming and then realize you were humming Vices.
Fig. 2 There’s a lot of pained howling by Brand New vocalist Jesse Lacey on the new CD, Daisy. The album features more screaming that BN’s previous releases. (Image courtesy of BBC News)
If Brand New fans are put off by the first track at least they’ll be comforted a bit by the second track, “Bed”, which sounds a bit more like the band’s older sound and the newer sound of GATDARIOM. The song is melodic, plodding, and catchy. Lines like “My eyes are lungs of the prophet and speak in tongues, I know how you die” represent Brand New’s art of taking a repetitive song and making it catchy, instead of grating.
Another note on the album, readily apparent on the first two tracks, especially noticed on repeated listens is the big improvement in guitar work and drumming. While the lyrics haven’t as dramatically evolved from GATDARIOM, the instrumentation certainly has. Beautiful layered guitar rifts and dramatic drum solos make each song like a landscape and add to the exhausting nature of the record.
Moving on, “At the Bottom” and “Gasoline” prove entertaining tracks with a mix of instrumentation and screaming, but don’t really stand out particularly. As with past records, though, song 5 — “You Stole” — is a stand out. It features such lyrics as, “So if I’m a liar and you’re a thief, At least we both know where the other one sleeps, So let’s end this tonight.”
“Be Gone”, the next track, is an unusual followup which plays with Lacey’s voice garbled and distorted. A rather short track, I felt it was fitting with the general darkness and mood of record. Some reviews criticized this track, but I think it added to the artistic noise appeal of the record.
Track 7, “Sink” starts off less powerful, but grows into one of the album’s better tracks. Standout lyrics at the end include, “How darkly the dark hand met his end, He was withered and boney, exposed for a phoney, But we heed the last words that he penned, Haste to disgrace the traitor. Do not wait til later.”
The next track, “Bought a Bride”, is probably the record’s weakest point. If you read the lyrics they sound great, but the band isn’t able to really translate that into a strong song, a bit of a disappointment. Themes in the song include death, war, marriage, and human anatomy (it seems that Brand New displayed a particular fascination lyrically with human anatomy, marriage, and sleeping on this record — perhaps venting some sort of personal turmoil).
Fortunately that low is followed by the best track on the record — “Daisy”. Written primarily by guitarist Vincent Accardi, the song is poignant and painful. It is the lyrical equivalent of finding yourself lost in the wilderness, cold and alone. Still, despite the dark character, it is one of my favorite tracks Brand New has penned to date.
The closing duo of “In a Jar” and “Noro” provide a sort of 11 minute outro, that’s well presented if a bit bland. Still, after all that the record has thrown at you, a bit of a respite is nice. The record is capped off at the end by another track from “On Life’s Highway”, adding a nice sense of symmetry and closure to the sonic tale told by the band.
So what conclusions can be drawn about the beast that is Daisy? Overall, the instrumentation is eloquent and drawing, the lyrics sharp, and album’s substance dark and artistic. From folk to indie to country, you’ll find twinges of numerous styles in the release, melded intricately. On the other hand it will never see much radio play. Its tracks cannot be listened to casually until you’re familiar with the album. And it is an unapologetic step away from the band’s past work.
Basically Brand New had a chance to continue producing catchy mainstream pop-punk and they threw it away. Instead they chose to become true artists, digging deeper into the dark crevices of their souls and experiences. Daisy is a culmination of the evolution. After listening to Daisy exhaustively, I’m convinced that its the band’s best record to date, and moreover my pick for record of the year.
The magnitude of that assertion is not lost on me. This year has brought several great records — Metric’s Fantasies, the Airborne Toxic Event’s self titled major re-released debut, Lisa Hannigan’s Sea Sew, Gucci Mane’s The State vs. Radric Davis, and the superband Monsters of Folk’s self titled debut to name but a few. Still to me Brand New’s work is literature in a musical landscape predominated by paperback writers. Give it a listen and find out for yourself why I consider this to be the top work produced this year.