Brand New: Deja Entendu

Stephen Haag

Brand New

Deja Entendu

Label: Razor & Tie
US Release Date: 2003-06-17
UK Release Date: 2003-06-30

Yes, "déjà entendu" is related to "déjà vu" -- I looked it up so you don't have to. More specifically, the term is French for "already heard". Glitch in the Matrix or not, leave it to Brand New -- lead singer Jesse Lacey, guitarist Vin Accardi, drummer Brian Lane, and bassist Garrett Tierney -- to name their sophomore disc Deja Entendu. Kudos for picking a loaded album title -- pardon me for beating it over your heads here -- the cleverness of a band called Brand New naming an album, for all intents and purposes, "Already Heard"; and the cynicism such a title carries in an already-crowded pop-punk field.

More on that later, but know that the apropos titling begins and ends with the album title. While the song titles may be the least important aspect of a song, they're the first bit of information a listener has when approaching a new song. So what's to be made of long-winded titles on Deja Entendu such as "I Will Play My Game beneath the Spin Light", "Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don't", and "Good to Know That If I Ever Need Attention All I Have to Do Is Die"? Quite frankly, very little, though they do help me reach my minimum word count for this review with ease. And the titles break the tenet of using nine words where two will suffice -- "Spin Light"? "Tommy Gun"? Anyone? It's a good thing the songs flow better than many of their titles would suggest.

Oh yeah, this is a music review! Deja Entendu starts with the drum-led dirge "Tautou" (Agh! Even their short song titles are inscrutable!), which has nothing to do with French actress Audrey Tautou (Amelie), but instead is Lacey half-whispering "I'm sinking like a stone in the sea". It's too somber to start even this relatively dark album, and there's a hidden-last-track vibe all over it, but the band place it up front, firing a warning shot to listeners that the band has matured since their 2001 debut, Your Favorite Weapon. If that's the intent, mission accomplished. Whereas YFW played like harder New Found Glory with its tales of mean girlfriends and celebration of the joys of teenagerdom, Deja Entendu posits Brand New as a less theatrical and sinister AFI. I guess I have already heard this album.

"Sic Transit Gloria . . . Glory Fades" gets a little artsy-disorienting, with Lacey's voice jumping speakers non-stop, but a big guitar solo from Accardi and a straight-up shouted punk-pop chorus pulls the song back from the brink of weirdness. In fact, those elements are frequently employed by the band throughout Deja Entendu, with varying degrees of success. They salvage "Glory Fades", but on tracks such as "Jaws Theme Swimming", where Brand New expands their formula with a loping jazzy/bluesy hint of a tune, falling back on the pop-punk chorus feels like a copout. I understand the fanbase wants fist-pumping choruses, but BN have chops and the vision to take their music to different places.

The band exhibit the fine blend of humor and ennui found in the album title on the life-in-a-band meditations "Spin Light" and "Tommy Gun". The former mixes acoustic guitar with a fuzzy electric guitar bridge (another crutch), while Lacey sounding downright Oberstian (vocally, not lyrically) tosses out world weary/funny lines like "I am paid to make girls panic". The meta-song "Tommy Gun" raises the ennui/jokey stakes. Sure the tune's quiet-LOUD-quiet formula is nothing special. But lyrics like "I hope this song starts a craze / The kind of song that ignite the airwaves / The king of song that make people glad to be where they are with whoever they're there with" make up for any structural blahs.

I half-joked earlier of hearing Brand New before in the tunes of other bands, but there are enough familiar-sounding songs to lend credence to the theory that the album's title is an in-joke signifying a tip of the cap to their influences. Besides NFG, AFI, and Bright Eyes, I'll be damned if "The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot" wasn't a stab at Coldplay-esque forlorn-yet-beautiful Britpop. And in "The Quiet Things That No One Knows" -- a loud song, incidentally (the jokers) -- one can hear traces of British vocal affects from Lacey, too. Strangest of all is Accardi's guitar on ". . . All I Have to Do Is Die", which cribs from Joe Walsh's "Hotel California" solo. Brand New embraces their influences/musical buddies. In a move more suited to a high schooler's AOL Instant Messenger profile, the band lists in the liner notes a handful of groups they dig: Built to Spill, Ron Sexsmith, Coldplay, Taking Back Sunday, U2, and Nirvana to name but a few. It's practically an invitation to listen for those bands' fingerprints on Deja Entendu.

Between the musical appropriation, the empty celebrity invoking ("Tautou" and "Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis"), and the oft-meaningless song titles and the thoroughly discussed album title, the end result is this: Brand New acknowledges there is nothing new under the sun, and that knowledge has set them free. Having been birthed from a genre steeped in solipsism and ego-stroking (i.e., full of notions such as "Girls are dumb for not liking me", "Parents are mean", and "Let's get shitfaced 'cuz we're in a band and we're indestructible youth"), and now using those tropes against themselves is a sly commentary on popular music. And oh yeah, the songs are pretty good too. Yes, we've heard it all before, but since when was automatically a bad thing?

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