Brand New - Deja Entendu (2003)
First off, a confession: I love emo. Love it. It's a pretty new taste I've developed (along with my indie rock taste), and I sometimes wonder what it would be like if it was around when I was the tortured teenage soul any of you emo-haters assume I must be for loving emo. I'm not. I'm a married, 26 year old man. I haven't felt tortured heartbreak for years. But when I did, man did I feel it. Like a ton of bricks. I think it would have been nice to have music that empathised and indulged in my feelings, as opposed to the seething machismo of the hip-hop I was listening to.
That said, Brand New isn't your typical emo band. Their first effort, Your Favorite Weapon, was standard pop-punk fare. A few good songs, but nothing special. I didn't even deem it worth burning when I borrowed it. They wrote the album while in high school, and it shows. Between the time they recorded YFW and toured it, they obviously matured as a band. The result is Deja Entendu an album so different (other than the shared oh-so-clever and convoluted song titles) that it's hard to believe the two are from the same band.
Whereas YFW was an album of high school breakup songs, Deja covers a wide variety of topics. Sure, there are the obligatory emo-heartbreak songs, such as "Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don't" and "The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot", but they also cover themes such as the weary nature of touring in "I Will Play My Game Beneath the Spin Light", loss of innocence in "Sic Transit Gloria... Glory Fades", coping with the death of a loved one in "Guernica", and the lies we tell to hide our drunken loneliness in "Me Vs. Maradona Vs. Elvis". Even when examining the loss and betrayal of relationships past, Deja tackles it in interesting ways, such as "Play Crack the Sky", which tells of two lovers on a sinking ship at sea.
Musically, the album often relies on acoustic guitars and minimalism, then crashing in with heavier sounds for the hooks. While the title of the album, Deja Entendu (already heard), ironically posits that there is nothing new on this album, I found the musical accompaniment quite refreshing, if not revolutionary. It should be said, though, that the album will probably not blow anyone away upon casual listen.
Instead, to truly appreciate Deja, one must sit in an otherwise quiet room and devour the album. I'd heard it dozens of times playing at work, and while I liked its overall sound enough to purchase it, it didn't become my favourite album until I sat at home one night, played it repeatedly and read the lyrics in the CD jacket. It proceeded to blow me away and not a week has passed since that I haven't listened to it at least once. For it is the lyricism that is the true strength of the album. In many ways, lead singer/songwriter Jesse Lacey isn't covering any new ground here. You could argue that no one in music is covering new ground anyway. So it's less about WHAT he's saying and all about HOW he says it. I could spend another hundred posts quoting clever lyrics, indeed I have in my own blog, but choosing just one is too hard, so I won't. Lacey is clever, and he knows it, and I like that about them.
Bottom line, if you're a fan of emo, then you MUST have this album in your collection. If you're not, this album manages to rise above the standard woe-is-me culture of emo and delves into some new territory for the melancholy of the world. However, it is not a CD to play if you want to dance or feel good about yourself. If that's what you listen to music for (and there's certainly nothing wrong with that) then steer clear of this one. Personally, I think it's a brilliant album that I haven't tired of in the slightest, and would like nothing more then if someone checks out because I said so. It's one of those albums that everyone who owns it feels like it's their own personal discovery.