Brand New Daisyby Thomas Okes / 25.09.2009
Brand New are like the Radiohead of underground. That statement might read a little strangely. You may stop and think, hey, isn’t Radiohead the Radiohead of underground? And well, no, not really. Not any more. These guys are the new it.
Where the two might be similar is in their capacity to forge suddenly new areas of expertise with each offering. Where Brand New might be better, though, is in their ability to match all of that imaginative insight without self-destructing into an electronic, strange-hop fairyland of the mind. Jesse Lacey is tortured where Thom Yorke has always been depressed; his lyrics are cutting and immediate as opposed to churlish and cold. Today, Brand New feels like Radiohead did before their internal apocalypse of 1999: brutal, pertinent, on the verge of capturing the world.
Back before anyone had heard of them, Brand New were singing about break-ups, touring with Finch and generally going through the whole pre-pubescent thing. Deja Entendu was where they got a bit more grown up, and two songs from that album, “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” and “Sic Transit Gloria”, announced their understanding of variety as a virtue. Many people will look back at that second album as one of the best ever, but probably only in a nostalgic, wish-I-could-be-17-forever kind of way. It was good, it grabbed you by that lump in your throat and tried to break your neck, but it got a bit diluted. Much like The Bends, perhaps, in the way that you could listen to it forever, maybe, but not feel anything new each time.
The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me was Brand New’s OK Computer. There is a song on that album, entitled “Jesus”, which might be the best song ever written by anyone. While the album generally rests on a paradigm of intriguingly-quiet/gut-wrenchingly loud, the roaring destination of that song is its rolling journey. By the time Lacey’s voice breaks into a screaming croak, your heart is in your mouth and broken to bits.
Daisy is clearly made by the same machine. This is the record which might make Brand New a little better than Radiohead. At any rate, it’s no Kid A. Where Thom and the boys huddled in a dark room and tried to salve their disillusioned wounds with a two-year bout of deliberate dysfunction, Jesse has forced his gang to stare back into the searing, glaring maw of unreasonable expectation. And they’ve done well: each song is surprising and impulsive, as the logic of the album matches the pattern of the band’s writing process. “I don’t think that in our recording career we have ever followed a path,” Lacey said in a BBC interview*. “It’s whatever comes out at that point. A song is never pushed into a direction. People think we have a plan and ask why we do things, but we don’t know”.
The songs have an easy spontaneity which speaks of studious crafting; as they dip and swerve through the ear, they throw hooks into the head and pull the brain into some sort of burning, instinctive direction. Some of them do this better than others. “At the Bottom” has a casual, rhythmic violence, which makes the chorus of “I’d serve you drugs on a silver plate, if I thought it would help you get away” feel primal and relevant, a war cry of outraged melancholy. “Noro” achieves a similar effect, its clattered drums working to bring an initial tone of ambivalence through to an arresting lyrical imagery. A verse which begins, “Why doesn’t anyone I know sleep? Are they all just scared of their dreams?” becomes infused with jerky urgency, and the howled, drawn-out “I’m on my way out”, is given pressing, vital life, a weeping shriek which acts as a shepherd’s crook around the chest.
Maybe what makes it most similar to Radiohead’s Kid A is the fact that its moments of striking beauty are interspersed with longer areas of incomprehensibility, as well as the early sense that these areas might be a lot of wilful wank. And there’s not a lot to say about that, just yet – even Kid A was only recognised for what it was, and is, a little while after Amnesiac followed it – other than just, we’ll see. I’d like to think that the strengths of this album (its grace, its breadth, its idea that the listener is secondary to the act of storytelling) will see it through any impatient write-offs, and that its worth will be acknowledged before too long. I’d also like to think that Jesse Lacey and the Brand New boys won’t care. If they’re intelligent enough to make music like this, they shouldn’t need to listen to anyone but themselves.
*Read the BBC interview here