Rather than partake in the creative stagnation and general apathy that is common of young bands, Brand New took the ambitious and uncommon route on their sophomore album Deja Entendu, one in which they would grow both musically and lyrically. Their efforts would pay off, for Long Island’s Brand New successfully meld pop, punk, and emo to create a sound precisely their own, a style that promises to support the unyielding buzz that has surrounded this band since 2001’s Your Favorite Weapon. From beginning to end, Deja Entenducaptivates the listener with carefully layered guitars, perfectly complementary drumming, and lead vocalist Jesse Lacey’s powerful and honest lyrics.
The tone of Deja Entendu is set in the solemn opener “Tautou,” which fades into “Sic Transit Gloria…Glory Fades,” a stellar track with bass driven verses and a thundering chorus made complete with emocore screams. “I Will Play My Game Beneath the Spin Light” tells of the pressures and loneliness of the road while the fourth track “Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t” is destined to be quoted in the instant messenger profiles of bitter sad kids everywhere with lyrics like “I hope you come down with something they can’t diagnose/ And don’t have the cure for.” Lacey is not known for holding back at all in his lyrics.
First single “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” is vibrant and catchy with guitar slides and dueling vocals. The sixth track “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot” and “Me Vs. Maradona” are mellow, well-crafted songs that showcase the band’s ability to layer vocals, drumming, and guitars in the most effective and beautiful way. “Good To Know That If I Ever Need Attention All I Have To Do Is Die” shows contrast between the quiet, haunting verses and the blaring chorus and arena-worthy breakdowns. On this track, Brand New show an understanding of the fact that when played skillfully, instruments can speak for themselves, a concept that many bands, who instead fill space with “na na na’s” or pointless repetition, could take the time to learn. The bouncing riffs of “Jaws Theme Swimming” and the power and sincerity of “Guernica” give the album the necessary alt-rock edge, and the acoustic “Play Crack the Sky” brings the album to a fittingly casual and emotional closure.
Deja Entendu, which means “heard it before” in French, is ironically one of the least derivative rock albums released in recent years. Brand New did not make an album to “break” the band, which is a common mistake amongst young acts eager to join the world of fame, riches, and groupies. The key to longevity is to grow as a band, make the best music possible to satisfy themselves and music fans, and not to force premature mainstream success. Brand New has done this, and as they continue to tour and produce albums, they will find themselves with a successful and well-earned career.
(Razor & Tie Records)
Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die
Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter
At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.
Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.
The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.
The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.
Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.
Fences – Failure Sculptures
Failure Sculptures is a steady outing
Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.
“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.
“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.
This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.