Brand New felt like growing up, so it did. Less than two years after its pop-punk debut Your Favorite Weapon declared the Long Island quartet simultaneously juvenile and well-cultured in the art of the plucky, well-intentioned cuckold, here was an astronaut on a barren landscape, barely casting a shadow.
Deja Entendu was an aggressive move away from the point Brand New was supposed to have arrived at after Your Favorite Weapon, as much a statement about what Brand New wasn’t as what Brand New would become. In the ten years since Deja, Brand New has released only two records (three if you count the dubiously leaked Fight Off Your Demons demo tapes), each progressively burrowing deeper away from whatever expectation fans and critics could’ve possibly lobbed at the band. Deja was the beginning of the end of Brand New. It was an end that would sprout two classic albums and one profoundly mediocre one; an end that would see lead singer Jesse Lacey shoved up on a pedestal by throngs of fans, only to have Hooded Jesus forget how to sing live and learn how to scream. It was an end concerned with lyric sheets, demos and obsessively recorded covers of Neutral Milk Hotel songs; an end that would be overshadowed by second wave emo’s implosion until barely anything resembling the genre remains, including Brand New.
Jesse Lacey wanted to be Morrissey. Even in the decidedly un-The Smiths-y “Mix Tape” on Weapon, Lacey makes a point of deriding his subject for criticizing “The Smiths … and Morrissey.” Heroes are often impossible to impersonate; this would seem doubly true for a Long Island pop-punk frontman trying to imitate a seminal Manchester alt-rock act and it’s “Pope of Mope” leader.
Yet for all of Weapon’s babbling about the terror of the debut recording process (“Failure By Design”), Deja Entendu actually succinctly culled Lacey’s songwriting voice into something nearly Morrissey-esque. At least four of Deja’s eleven tracks chronicle misadventures in sex, whether virginal (“Sic Transit Gloria … Glory Fades”) or predatory (“Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis”). A seemingly equal number chronicle the relentless touring of a band on the cusp. Yet the narratives that hold the most weight are the ones Lacey grounds in a deep, emotive moment. “Sic Transit” is by any measure not the most single-worthy track on the album, yet it got first billing because it sums up much of what Deja Entendu is about – that great emo staple, loss of innocence that comes from that unfortunate first time having sex. The album’s most easily forgotten, yet probably best, track, “Guernica,” does the same when faced with the prospect of a loved one dying and being unable to affect any sort of change. “Is this the way a toy feels, when its battery’s run dry?” is a neat bit of Morrissey aping, something Lacey really only captured with any poignancy on Deja.
Perhaps this is why, with the exception of “Jesus Christ,” the heartbreaking ballad on Brand New’s third record The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, Deja Entendu records Jesse Lacey and his most relatable and morose. The anachronistic reality with most mid-aught emo kids resides somewhere in the half-ironic, half-fake-it-til-you-make-it opening line to “Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Dont:” “I am Heaven sent / don’t you dare forget.” It’s unlikely Lacey actually believes he’s sent from God, or even something closely related. Instead the line captures the mildly pretentious feeling of any late teenager listening to Deja; that Deja is the best music, and everybody else is just hiding their feelings.
The Smiths accomplished something similar, albeit in a more literary way. Lacey strikes a chord on Deja by being self-pitying yet sure of his own excellence. “We Won’t let you in / though we’re down and out,” goes the chorus of “I Will Play My Game Beneath The Spin Light.” Instead of getting lost somewhere along the road of self-pity and ending up pathetic, Lacey managed to weave cogent, half-winking and fully fleshed out narratives together from a scene that was rapidly running out of good ideas.
They Call ‘Em Rogues
Of the years before the Panic! At the Disco-ization of emo, 2003 bore the most fruit for a potential second wave of hooky bloodletting, this time incorporating elements of modern pop-punk heroes like Blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World. 2003 saw the best records from Yellowcard (Ocean Ave.), Fall Out Boy (Take This To Your Grave), The Early November (Room’s Too Cold), Something Corporate (North) and Thrice (Artist in the Ambulance), as well as breakouts from could-have-been emo staples Limbeck (Hi, Everything’s Great), Armor For Sleep (Dream To Make Believe), The Format (Interventions & Lullabies) and The Weakerthans (Reconstruction Site). On top of that, superstars Thursday released their second best record War All The Time, and Coheed & Cambria instituted themselves as a hard-emo force to be reckoned with with In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth. The wheat, as they say, was massacring the chaff.
With all this quality output, Deja Entendu’s seminal status carries more weight for being the best emo record of that year by leagues. Emo had yet to take control of the airwaves (Yellowcard’s record would help), but Deja Entendu felt as though Brand New had already figured out where the logical endpoint was and had just skipped steps to get there. For evidence, notice how many records post-Brand New actively copy either the Your Favorite Weapon or the Deja Entendu formula. The question is slightly unfair, since the latter record is far better than the former. That’s also part of the beauty of it – emo bands (rightly) saw two incredible records by one band, and in their haste to cash in on the scene’s reluctant flagbearers, too the easier route to a record deal. Is it any wonder that Taking Back Sunday and Fall Out Boy leapfrogged Brand New’s cultural cache? Both took the easiest possible way through emo to get to success.
Deja Entendu was anything but the easy decision. From the post-rock opening “Tautou” to the almost jazz-inflected boom-bap of “Jaws Theme Swimming,” Brand New wanted to be something grown from the emo framework. They still resided solidly in that framework (the lyrics to “Tautou” or the chorus of “Jaws Theme Swimming”), but the urge to push the boundaries is what catapulted Brand New over their contemporaries. Even the most laudable of the band’s friends, Thursday and Thrice, would attempt to out-push the genre pushers, each progressively drifting further from the thematic purpose that yielded the best results. Deja Entendu was both.
Ten years later, precious few of those cadre of names matter even in the small frame. Thursday is a legacy band, easily forgotten, but memorialized by a vocal few. Coheed & Cambria went insane with power and burnt themselves out. Fall Out Boy just released one of the worst albums of the year. The only legitimate popular remainder from that list is Nate Reuss, lead singer of The Format and progenitor of last year’s Descent To the Middle Single of the Year, fun.’s “We Are Young.” Everything succumbs to gravity; it is mesmerizing how hard these band’s hit the ground.
When You’re Young You Celebrate
The introduction below was given by an abnormally canded Jesse Lacey in 2006 before playing Your Favorite Weapon closer, and fan favorite, “Soco Amaretto Lime.” Listen to the hesitancy with which Lacey tries to speak about the youth who wrote the song – him, a mere five years earlier.
This explanation fits, though. Brand New stopped playing more juvenile Weapon tracks like “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad,” “Seventy x 7” or “Soco” because at some point the band had to grow up. There’s no celebrating on Deja Entendu; there are scarcely more visceral feelings than anything expressed on Weapon. Entendu is more mature, but in the way college freshmen feel mature. The members Brand New spent the three years post-Deja attempting to erase their younger selves with such great prejudice that the legend of their former lives would haunt the band ad nauseum. “Spin Light” discusses this with blunt turns about reading more maps than books and nautical metaphors about shooting prey.
Systematic erasure of previous creative accomplishments, sadly, would become Brand New. While most fans put Brand New’s infamous reclusiveness on the shoulders of Lacey, the relative paucity of music from any other member of Brand New speaks to how much the band truly hated the adoration their past successes earned them. Following “Seventy” and “Soco’s” expulsion, the band would cull early single “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” and acoustic weeper “Play Crack the Sky” from the live set, preferring to extending The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me tracks on to nearly double the length with post-rock noise. The band’s shows were always captivating since Lacey’s nonplussedness could swing wildly from night to night.
The thesis of Brand New’s live show was clear – define us by this moment, not by any moment prior.
Trouble is, Deja means something quite a bit more to quite a few fans than it does to the band. For all of the blathering above about stretching the emo formula and trying to work out a productive way to expand the genre, Deja Entendu was a miraculous record for the way it connected with so many. Many emo records can claim lordship over the hearts of fans – any of the records listed above plus a smattering of Taking Back Sunday or Say Anything releases. Yet, in large part the common denominator between kids who grew up in the emo scene in the mid-aughts is Deja. Whether the loss of innocence, the clever songwriting, the album cover or the mile-long track names, Deja was a record put out and over time dismissed by its own band. Which would probably make it easy to forget, were it not so effective at drilling into the psyche’s of its listeners. Ten years ago Brand New released Deja Entendu; from that day forward, the record has belonged more to the fans that live by it than the reclusive emo-savants that made it.