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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Top 10 Brand New Songs

This week, Long Island rockers Brand New released "Mene," their first new song since before the turn of the decade, and a song that could very well one day end up on this list. Brand New have had one of the more interesting career trajectories in modern rock, starting as a drop in the ocean of pop-punk bands in the early '00's before blossoming into proficient post-hardcore leaders with 2006's The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me and, later, Daisy. The band has always claimed a large group of rabid followers, and recently have been shown a good deal of retrospective critical acclaim across the indie blogosphere. As someone who is a pretty big fan of the band (especially their later work), I'm very excited at the increasingly likely prospect of a new record, and figure now would be a good time to look back at the group's catalogue and attempt to pick out their ten best singles. While this list is dominated by tracks from the band's two latter albums, all of Brand New's music is worth checking out.

10. "Daisy" - Daisy (2009)

Kicking off our countdown is the self-titled track from the band's last full-length LP. Opening with an unsettling male voice leading some sort of choir shortly followed by an eerie soundbite of a small child speaking, "Daisy" is an atmospheric track about failure and inadequacy. Singer Jesse Lacey opens up the first verse by proclaiming, "I'm a mountain that has been moved/I'm a river that is all dried up," going on to compare himself to several other objects that have failed to serve their purpose. The child's dialogue splits the two verses, the second of which takes on a decidedly darker feel thanks to a low bass grumble and death-march drum pattern. "Daisy," like its eponymous album as a whole, is a slow-burner, but that doesn't make the flame any dimmer.

9. "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows" - Deja Entendu (2003)

One of the best songs from the group's early pop-punk/emo period, "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows" was Brand New's breakthrough single. The track's commanding chorus and guitarist Vince Accardi's well-written guitar work made it an obvious choice for the lead single from 2003's Deja Entendu, and the decision paid off in the end. Over a decade later, "The Quiet Things" is one those rare songs from MTV's emo era remembered fondly by fans and critics alike, a true testament to Brand New's ability to avoid musical cliches and write songs with staying power.

8. "Sowing Season (Yeah)" - The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me (2006)

"Sowing Season (Yeah)" kicks off what many consider to be Brand New's magnum opus in a stunning, raw fashion. From the second you hit play, you're greeted with a muted guitar riff and Lacey's similarly tempered vocals. Out of the quiet calm of verse one erupts the chorus, a whirlwind of mangled guitars and impassioned, intense yells of "yeah!" The second verse draws inspiration from Rudyard Kipling, and the bridge features one of Lacey's greatest vocal moments, as he screams "I am not your friend/I am just a man who knows how to feel/I am not your friend/I'm not your family/I'm not your family/yeah." Introducing fans to a brand new Brand New (sorry for that...), "Sowing Season" showcases the sheer emotional power the New York-based band is capable of creating.

7. "Okay, I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don't" - Deja Entendu (2003)

A live staple and, in my opinion, the pinnacle moment of Brand New's pre-Devil and God career, this track off Deja Entendu is reportedly a response to Taking Back Sunday's attempts to rip on Brand New. The lyrics are sung from the perspective of a man on the other side of a bitter breakup, with many lines delivered in condescending and/or sarcastic tones. Jesse Lacey was once a member of Taking Back Sunday before leaving once his girlfriend cheated on him with a fellow band mate, and that TBS wrote several songs directly calling Lacey out in the dispute's aftermath, and the story told in "Tommy Gun" could very well be based on this feud. The song itself opens with a lengthy intro of just vocals and guitars, during which Lacey claims, "I am heaven sent/don't you dare forget." Once the drums and bass kick in, the track turns into another convetional yet above-average example of pop-punk.

6. "Degausser" - The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me (2006)

With The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, Brand New took a drastic and ultimately fruitful away from emo and closer towards hardcore music. "Degausser" is one of the best indicators of their stylistic change, standing as one of the group's heaviest tracks to date. Like "Sowing Season," the song lulls you with more controlled verse before unleashing the band's collective fury during the chorus. Every line of the hook is screamed, and excellently so - "I can't shake this little feeling" never sounded more severe. Guitars twist and turn throughout the five-and-a-half minute runtime, and the drum patterns shift around just enough to always keep you guessing. 

5. "Gasoline" - Daisy (2009)

Opening with a pulsating snare-bass rhythm, "Gasoline" tells a tale of futility in an aggressive and raw manner. The cleverly-worded chorus "I swear it's like dying/to catch a ghost/it feels like I'm trying/to hold smoke" later devolves into the more violent "It feels like I'm jumping towards a train." The quick bursts of heavy distortion bring about the song's moments of peak intensity, though Lacey's screaming will never fool the listener into thinking all is well. The bass lines in "Gasoline" provide much of the foundation that the fractured drums and guitars fail to provide, and stand out particularly well here.

4. "Limousine" - The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me (2006)

Featured on my previous posts ranking both my favorite long songs and favorite guitar solos (being the runner-up on the latter), TDAGARIM highlight "Limousine" reappears once again on this blog. The song's meaning is well-documented, telling the true story of a young girl killed by a drunk driver on her way home from a wedding, revisiting the drunk-driving theme from "Sowing Season." The track is sung from two perspectives; first, the girl's mother, and later, the drunk driver responsible for the tragedy. Speaking for the latter, Lacey asks Jesus, "can I get myself out from underneath/this guilt that will crush me?" The music of "Limousine" grows in emotion in concurrence with the lyrics, ultimately reaching a crescendo of horns and a heart-wrenching guitar solo. Mercifully, the track ends with a minute of feedback fade-out to allow you to gather yourself, as it can often be hard to keep a dry eye while listening to this masterfully told catastrophe.

3. "You Won't Know" - The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me (2006)

I hope that brief interlude after "Limousine" was enough of a recovery period, because it is immediately followed on The Devil and God's track list by "You Won't Know," a furious piece of music that sees Brand New at their heaviest. The anxious but hushed introduction is only a mirage, as Lacey and company soon explode into four minutes of relentlessly blood-pumping and head-banging music at its finest. Each time Lacey blasts out the song's title, the conviction in his voice grows a little bit stronger. None of Brand New's "harder" singles packs more of a punch than "You Won't Know," earning it the imaginary bronze medal of this countdown.

2. "You Stole" - Daisy (2009)

Like "Daisy" on steroids, "You Stole" is the ultimate example of a slow-burning Brand New track that never fails to impress and entertain. The song is built around two main guitar parts - the consistent, pace-setting chords in the background and the surf-rock flourishes littered throughout the verses. Each extended section gradually builds into a more dynamic bridge, with the amp distortion turned up and cymbals crashing left and right. After the first of these two instrumental breaks, the band slides gracefully back into the refrain of "you stole/from the cradles they were rocked in/you took the first words that they spoke." The bridge then returns, the guitars more fierce than ever, before collapsing back into the "quiet" section one last time. "You Stole" is perhaps Daisy's best moment, the climax of the album, and deserves to be held in high regard by Brand New fans everywhere.

1. "Jesus" - The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me (2006)

For a band often cited for their musical intensity and ferocious live shows, it's funny that Brand New's practically undisputed  best song is one that substitutes screaming for soft singing, guitar crunch for open sustains, and raw power for stunning beauty. The four-note guitar pattern present throughout the song never gets old, nor does the equally simplistic and constant drum beat. Lacey has never sounded more beautiful than on "Jesus," and his lyrics have never been as profound before or since. "Jesus" centers around a man unsure if he has done enough to earn himself a spot in heaven, and fears being sent to hell. "Jesus Christ, I'm alone again/so what did you do those three days you were dead?" and "Jesus Christ, I'm not scared to die/I'm a little bit scared of what comes after" are just two examples of how lyrically brilliant and honest the track is. The near-matching guitar solos reinforce this feeling of uncertainty of fate. Before the song ends, Lacey does let loose one scream, in order to strike back at the society that has made him feel so much guilt and despair. For a man whose "bright is too slight to hold back all (his) dark," Jesse Lacey sure knows how to write a gorgeous piece of music, as "Jesus" proves unequivocally.

Honorable mentions: "Millstone," "Jude Law and a Semester Abroad," "Luca," "At the Bottom"

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