Brand New's third album is not a disc you want to check out if you’re looking for an overview of their first two: it's an innovation of the grandest kind.
It's incredible listening to Brand New's The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, how soothing, how bitter, how generally atmospheric it is. Then a realization even more amazing occurs to you -- this is only their third album.
Close your eyes, listen to this, and you'd imagine a group of maestros who'd been polishing their music for many a year. Quite frankly, the world wasn't, nor is it, ready for a work the scope of this from a band of Brand New's mettle. After a fairly obscure debut in 2001' Your Favorite Weapon, their minor indie crossover hit "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows", from a long three years back, tackled suicide in its lyrics -- the first indication that the band had courage -- but it was the sort of song, soppy and mopey, whose meaning and value disintegrated after the first few listens. This pretty much paved the way to their sophomore release, Deja Entendu -- a middling 'emo' compilation, the title intended to be a snide comment that all modern music is sounding similar, but with the ridiculous unrelated track names and glum, run-of-the-mill lyrics it applied more to themselves. After the take-off of said single, they all but faded back to the scene they came from, further confirming, it seemed, that their one-time success was doomed to be quickly forgotten by today's fickle teenagers (and let's face it, they weren't writing much to appeal to the older generation); but now it seems like they were just being smart while they recorded this.
There's something so very natural about The Devil and God. It doesn't sound contrived or forced, it's understated when it needs to be (pay attention: this is an important quality), and it's certainly more mature, putting breakup and self-infliction clichés, thankfully, behind them. You may even forget you're listening to their third outing. The friction to bubbling opener "Sowing Season (Yeah)", works -- passionately -- through a soft-loud mold, though its dynamic is far from as predictable a sound as you'd draw from that description. Vocallist Jesse Lacey outlines it with soul-searching mutters and unrefined back-of-the-throat defiance.
The synthetic drumming and dreamy background to "Jesus Christ", which takes on the form of a part-love song part-letter to the man himself ("I'm not scared to die / I'm a little bit afraid of what comes after", he admits), has more in common with Pink Floydian space rock than the quasi-emo outfits you might have previously linked Brand New with. As if to prove it's not just toying with you, it stips in mid-chorus, pauses for a few seconds, then gets going again. "Millstone" represents that they haven't forgotten what a good melody sounds like, although they're ever unwilling to abandon their introspective songwriting. By making sure the line is firmly drawn between then and now, however, they leave plenty of digestion for open-minded listeners.
"Degausser" and "Not the Sun" are less impressive, mainly because the former features a gospel choir, destroying Lacey's tentative beauty, while the latter's nifty bassline could have been inspired by Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby". However, "Limousine" is the album's distinctive centerfold, at a staggering seven minutes. It builds up from acoustic / vocal accompaniment a la Elliott Smith into dense, bottom-ended noise-rock elite, full of grisly distortions and not-quite-there melodies. This isn't the type of cut that most of their audience will cherish or even understand: but it certainly shows, impressively, that the band are answering the call to progress of their own accord. Another of interest is "Luca", which reprises itself as a bonus track to The Devil and God... in a heartier and clearer version. "Drop me a line with a hook and some raw bleeding bait / I am uncaught and still swimming alone in the lake", Lacey declares.
The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me is an effort from Brand New to put on the shelf with Jimmy Eat World's Futures and Blue October's Foiled -- examples from recent years of emo bands taking an experimental, slightly darker step towards maturity at the possible expense of dismissal by their early fanbase. That mark is visible throughout much of this record; they sound like a completely new band, which is ironic, considering their name.
It's a perfect example of a band outliving the expecations placed upon them, taking action to widen their pallet (after only two LPs, might I add), and in the process, it's also the embodiment of a musical achievement, and makes the knowledge that whatever follows this will (hopefully) be even more positively painful.