Monday, September 21, 2009

daisy by brand new

Brand New is a band that understands its strengths. Frontman Jesse Lacey put it best in the band's acerbic call to arms "Okay I Believe You But My Tommy Gun Don't": "We admit to the truth; we are the best at what we do." Indeed, they possess an almost preternatural ability to take a style I do not care for (what the world at large pejoratively refers to as "emo," though this feels like a criminally unfair description) and transform it into some of the most compelling music that has touched these college ears. 2003's Deja Entendu is one of the best albums of its kind. 2006's follow-up The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me is one of the best albums, period. Due in no small part to this prodigious talent, their popularity is not insubstantial; in fact, one might even be able to make the case that they're among the most commercially successful American bands working today. Because of this, they have basically stood peerless in terms of pre-album hype in 2009. The internet has been all a-buzz for months. How will they follow up their masterpiece? What will the album sound like? What new turns will their music take?

Well, now that the answer is finally upon us, how about it? Is Daisy a good record? Of course it is. Its problem is that it's also an exceptionally difficult one, especially for the faction of oldschool fans still holding out for another Deja-style pop album. At times the band feels like it's trying way too hard to do something different; at others, it just feels like they're not trying at all for anything. This gives the album a sort of adverse take-it-or-leave-it feel that probably won't set well with people who aren't willing to be patient with it. Given the size of the band's fanbase, I fully expect this to be a hugely polarizing album.

When the boys make their magic work, though, it still casts an inimitable spell. For its five minutes, "Noro" -- the album's final and best song -- serves as a heart-wrenching reminder of what makes me love this band so much: the quietly despairing melody, Lacey's vulnerable vocals, the gradual build into noisy distortion. It's the one song on here that feels like it was crafted with the same amount of care and attention to detail that was present on virtually every track on The Devil and God, and it's honestly remarkable. If Daisy does indeed end up being the band's swan song, as Lacey has repeatedly hinted in interviews, this is a fitting and appropriate goodbye.

The rest of the album is a much tougher nut to crack. It's frequently rewarding, but the band seems so hellbent on defying expectations that appreciating it to its fullest extent is something that requires a considerable amount of time. "At the Bottom" was a wise choice for the album's first single: it's the only thing here that's even remotely suited for airplay, and it stands as a strong and fairly immediate glimpse into the stylistic changes the band has made. Other songs make no such attempt to ease the listener in. Anyone not knowing what to expect will probably have the shit scared out of them by opener "Vices," then spend the rest of its duration wondering what the hell happened to the band famous for its restrained, thoughtful anthems like "Jesus" and "Limousine." Still, jarring as it is, "Vices" is an exciting way to begin the record. 99 times out of 100, I would detest what the band is trying to do, but everything I said about them being able to take a highly disagreeable formula and turn it into something intriguing holds true for this song. It ... well, kind of rocks.

Elsewhere, "Sink" and "Bought a Bride" seem to most successfully exemplify the new direction the band is trying to take. The tracks are quick and brutal, but also melodic and memorable. Even so, one can't help but be bothered by the nagging feeling that these songs -- strong as they are -- could have been even better if they'd been expanded by another minute or two. "Sink," for instance, hits one of the record's most thrilling moments around its 2:30 mark, but doesn't bother staying around to capitalize on it. And in general, this is Daisy's biggest flaw: while there's nothing here that I wouldn't consider good (with the exception of "Be Gone," which is frankly one of the most embarrassing pieces of filler I've come across on an album in a long time and am led to wonder just what the hell these guys thought they were accomplishing by putting it on here), the songs all seem so short and hasty and underdeveloped. It's enough to make me wonder if this is the record these guys really wanted to make, or if someone's been tapping on their shoulders to remind them that, hey, it's been three years since they put something out and that they might want to consider releasing what they've got just to keep folks happy.

It's this conflict that makes Daisy such a rough album to put a finger on. It's comprised almost entirely of good (sometimes great) material, but its full potential feels compromised by a sense that the band's heart might not fully be in it anymore. But am I just saying that because it's really the case, or because I'm just having difficulty reconciling this with the band's monolithic past achievements? Who knows. For what it is, Daisy works, albeit somewhat more modestly than one might expect. What remains to be seen is whether this actually is the final chapter in the Brand New story, or just an intriguing pit stop along the way. If the latter is true (and let's hope it is), bring on the fifth album. I can't wait to see where they go from here. As much as I like it in a perverse sort of way, though, might I not suggest an entire album of "Vices"?

mp3: "Noro" by Brand New
mp3: "Sink" by Brand New


Anonymous said...

I agree. Your review pretty much nailed it. This album is intriguing, but hard to conceptualize. There doesn't seem to be much coherence between songs. It's almost like the band tried to take the boundaries established in Devil and God and push them to the point of sloppiness. I am enjoying the new album more with each listen, but it does feel raw and underdeveloped at times. That being said, this is still a brilliant record. These guys are geniuses. They never make the same album twice, nor do they ever make a bad album.

It almost sounds like I am complaining, but I actually love this album and there is no other band on the planet that could make an album this good.

Noro is the best song on the album and maybe the best they've written. You Stole is amazing too. Vices and Sink absolutely rock. Bought a Bride is a bit disappointing. I prefer Jesse's solo acoustic version of the song. The studio version just seems overproduced. Aside from Be Gone, there isn't a bad song on the album.

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