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Friday, October 11, 2013

Album of the Week: Brand New - "The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me"

Rating: 9.7/10

Much has been made recently about the supposed revival of emo as a genre. Though Brand New's first few albums definitely fall under the often-maligned genre, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me saw the band veer in a more post-hardcore direction, and can hardly be labeled as emo. In fact, I think TDAGARIM is a criminally underrated album. The record draws much of its strength from its versatility, whether it's straightforward rock romps ("Millstone"), calm yet passionate ballads ("Jesus"), or a mix of the two ("Sowing Season"). The production is very dry, bleak, even, and suits the messages from Jesse Lacey's lyrics. Conflicting themes of hope and evil, hinted at by the album's title, run rampant. At times beautiful, at times unsettling, often somewhere in between, the ultra-powerful Raging Inside Me represents the band at the height of its creative peak.

Album opener and lead single "Sowing Season" paints a picturer for the rest of the record. The track, which references works by both Stephen King and Rudyard Kipling, is a poetic explanation of loneliness and self-loathing. Lacey starts simple, with nothing but a muted guitar riff and his nearly-whispered vocals kicking off the song. Eventually, the guitars creep into the mix before Lacey unleashes a ferocious "YEAH!" and the spiraling, mainly-instrumental chorus takes off. The song varies between quiet and desperate (the verse/bridge) and furious (the choruses). Lacey's toils are most chilling during the bridge, during which he cries "I'm not your friend, I'm just a man who knows how to feel. I'm not not your friend, I'm not your lover, I'm not your family." One last chorus erupts before the song fades into "Millstone."

The relatively plain "Millstone" (not "Milestone," though that's the word in the lyrics) remains consistent throughout, but still has a kick. The guitars blare, and the plucky bass line provides the track with a steady backbone. "I used to be such a burning example," Lacey sings, indicating his character's not exactly thrilled with the way his life has turned out. The song also contains the first reference to God and Christianity, a recurring theme of the album, especially on the upcoming "Jesus."

"Jesus" is Raging Inside Me's most tender moment, and also most likely it's best. The lyrics tel the story of man (most likely Lacey himself) who tries to remain in good faith, but feels he has let down those around him along with his God. Lacey's words here are more chilling than ever. "If they don't put me away, it'll be a miracle" appears to reference salvation, or lack thereof ("put me away" being a metaphor for going to Hell); "Well Jesus Christ, I'm not scared die" continues this theme. "We all got wood and nails" refers to Crucifixion."Well, Jesus Christ, I'm alone again, so what did you do those three days you were dead? 'Cause this problem's gonna last more than the weekend" shows how terrified and alone the narrator is. Honestly, I could go on and on in this fashion, since all of the lyrics are outstanding. But this song isn't just about the story; the instrumentals are almost as if not equally beautiful. All three guitar solos sound calming yet forlorn (and almost made it onto my recent Top 10 Guitar Solos post), and Lacey's actual vocal work is fantastic. After the 2nd solo, the music picks up slightly in intensity, and you hear Lacey screaming for help. The second repetition of "we're tortured and hanged in factories" (though the lyrics being sung are disputed) is simply stunning. Overall, "Jesus" is one of my all-time favorite songs, and I think it truly deserves it. It explores religious issues from a unique perspective, from someone who thinks they've failed God yet still cares enough to talk with him.

"Degausser" and "You Won't Know" are similar tracks in that they are about equally long, both open with bleak guitar riffs, and explode into a wall of sound and Lacey's screams. "Degausser" is the more chaotic of the two, with cymbals flying all over the play and overlapping vocal tracks pierce through. "You Won't Know" is still heavy, though, as a quiet intro morphs into a adrenaline rush of open hi-hats and guitars that blare like sirens.

Sandwiched between the two is "Limousine," the devastating track which did in fact make my guitar solos list. It tells the true story of Katie Flynn, a seven year old girl who was killed by a drunk driver coming home in a limousine from a wedding. The first verse is amazingly sad and compassionate, and is sung from Katie's mother's point of view. Lyrics like "I've one more night to be your mother" and "leave your shell to us" portray all of feelings of sorrow after a tragedy like this one about as accurately as you could expect from a piece of music. The acoustic guitar and Lacey's soft vocals give way to the explosive transition, which allegedly contains the sounds of bombs going off, for added effect. The tempered second verse speaks from the perspective of the man who crashed into the Flynn's limo. "Can I get myself out from underneath this guilt that will crush me?" Lacey sings, adding "I saw our sad Messiah. He was bored and tired of my laments, said 'I died for you one time, but never again.'" Toning it down again, the group repeat the refrain "Well I love you so much, do me a favor baby, don't reply, 'cause I can dish it out, but I can't take it" as the "well" evolves into "one," then "two," all the way up until Lacey hits "seven." Kate was seven years and old, and the lyric could also reference the seven deadly sins described in the Bible. The repeated verse gradually grows more desperate, more chaotic, and more sad, as horns throttle and Lacey sits on the verge of shouting. Finally, the verse climaxes and Vince Accardi unleashes a ferocious guitar solo. The sound fades out for over a minute, which the sound of feedback growing louder and louder, presumably to represent the sound of the two cars racing towards each other on the highway before their head-on collision. It's a moving piece of music, though extremely depressing, and is a standout on the album.

Off the latter half of the record, it's perhaps the instrumental tracks that are most interesting, other than "Luca." "Welcome to Bangkok" starts off pretty before suddenly taking a dark, scary path. The second half of the song is violent and somewhat terrifying, as distorted guitars drown out muffled screams of terror. The untitled track contrasts this by taking a relaxing, beautiful, yet still chilling angle.

"Luca" tells the story of The Godfather character Luca Brasi, and can be broken down into three parts. In the first, drummer Brian Lane pounds his toms and Lacey sings of someone joining a gang over a sinister acoustic riff. In the second part, everything drops out, leaving a whispering Lacey and a muffled acoustic guitar. The lyrics tell the story of how Luca dies; being weighed down with cement and drowned. "You never worked well (or possibly "you'll never quell") with our group, not with the faults we've found." and "We'll still find someone to be everything that you'll never be" and brutal and chilling. For the conclusion, the drums and electric guitars jump back in to the mix, riding out the last minute or so under Lacey's repeated "Where you've been" shouts.

The other three songs on TDAGARIM are disappointing compared to the rest of the album, but don't by any means spoil what is a fantastic record. "Not the Sun" is fast-paced but straightforward, other than the slowed-down bridge. "The Archers' Bows Have Broken" sounds the most like a track from Brand New's previous and decidedly more pop-influenced Deja Entendu. "Handcuffs" closes out the album and shows promise but doesn't really go anywhere.

Despite these three songs, none of which are bad, only lackluster, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me is still one of the most powerful and fascinating albums of the 00's. The record is extremely emotional, and in this sense the record deserves the label "emo," but should not bear any of the hate directed at the genre. It takes emo's good components, being introverted lyrics, loud instrumentals, and excellent vocal performances, and leaves behind all of the bad aspects like sappiness, whining, and repetitiveness. Often overlooked by critics thanks to it's labeled genre, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me sits comfortably between emo and post-hardcore. The record truly is outstanding, and should not be missed.

Key tracks: "Sowing Season," "Jesus," "Limousine," "Luca"

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