Deja Entendu Album Review
By John Leary
Brand New is a Long Island based rock band consisting of Jesse Lacey (songwriter/vocalist/guitarist), Vincent Accardi (songwriter/ backing vocals/guitarist), Garrett Tierney (bass), and Brian Lane (drums). The band first rose to prominence in the early 2000s alongside other bands in the Long Island hardcore scene like Glass Jaw and Taking Back Sunday (the latter once featured Jesse Lacey on bass). Their debut album, ‘Your Favorite Weapon’ was released in 2001 and featured straight-forward, pop-punk songwriting. While not a huge breakthrough for the band, it managed to spawn a few popular singles including ‘Jude Law and a Semester Abroad’ and ‘Seventy Times Seven’, which even received some rotation on MTV. The instrumentation on this album was far from groundbreaking. However, Lacey’s lyrics stood apart from those of his contemporaries, as he proved himself as well-equipped to convey the angst ridden sentiments of midwestern emo artists as he was the sardonic wit of Morrissey. This first release, though not entirely unremarkable, merely hinted at the talent this band possesses.
Rather than follow up their debut with another formulaic pop-punk record, the band managed to create a brand new sound for their second LP. Their sophomore album, Deja Entendu, displayed a vast maturity from their previous release; the songwriting is more dynamic, the instrumentation more lush, and the lyrical themes more complex. Despite the obvious improvements to their overall sound, what may be more impressive is the record’s heightened level of self-awareness. Brand New created an album that would be considered a classic in retrospect, and oddly familiar upon first listen. The title itself, “Deja Entendu”, is French for “Already Heard”, a concept stemming from Lacey’s belief that no matter how groundbreaking an album is, it will always be considered derivative by critics.
The intro to this album, “Tatou”, lasts just under 2 minutes. The guitar melody is slow and initially very quiet. The vocals are nearly whispered, and the only lyrics are, “I’m sinking like a stone in the sea/I’m burning like a bridge for your body.” The song increases in volume as Lacey’s meek admissions quickly become impassioned declarations. After the song builds to a climax, it becomes softer and softer, until the music is nearly inaudible. This song serves as a microcosm of the entire album, a brief introduction to Lacey’s current interests and hang-ups. This is the first of many similes on the album, as well as the first of many references to water and the first instance of the loud-quiet dynamic, all three of which become trademark devices employed by Lacey as the album progresses.
The next song (and first single), “Sic Transit Gloria…Glory Fades”, recounts an uncomfortable sexual encounter experienced by the speaker of the album. The lyrics read like a Salinger novel in which an inexperienced male is taken advantage of by a presumably mature woman that doesn’t see her partner as anything other than a sexual object. The song’s content is refreshing as the manipulation to perform sexual acts is being done by the woman rather than the male.
On the track that follows, “I Will Play My Game Beneath the Spin Light,” the speaker, who by now it has become clear is Lacey himself, describes the ups and downs of going on the road to tour. It’s in this song that we really begin to get a feel for our narrator. Sentimental lines like, “Won’t see home this Spring,” and “I would kill for the Atlantic,” become less heartfelt when followed by the arrogant, “But I am paid to make girls panic when I sing.” Brand New isn’t breaking new ground by acknowledging that it sucks to tour, but there’s something authentic in their almost pained admission that an artist doesn’t simply perform for their self or the sake of their art, but also for the admiration that comes with it.
Lacey displays only more arrogance as he begins the next track, “OK, I Believe You, but My Tommy Gun Don’t,” on which he sings, “I am all you’ve ever wanted, what all the other boys all promised.” Later he takes aim at contemporary artists with the lines, “These are the words you wish you write down/This is the way you wish your voice sounds/Handsome and smart.” This kind of bragadocious song-writing isn’t typical of bands that perform this style of music, but the song sounds more confident than it does arrogant, and it works.
The album’s second single, “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows,” is one of my personal favorites. It begins with a vaguely nostalgic arpeggiated guitar chord that becomes distorted as the tempo quickens, and is immediately followed by driving bass, rhythm guitars, and powerful drumming. The lyrics seem to describe an increasingly loveless marriage: “We saw the Western coast, we saw the hospital./The veil is ruined in the rain.” The narrator laments the boredom he feels toward his partner (“By then knew I could do without/Nothing new to talk about.”) but reveals a lingering tenderness for her in the track’s bridge (“I lie for only you”). The overall effect is of complex, painful honesty.
The second half of the album is more introspective and sentimental; it seems less about the narrator as a performer, and more about him as a person. “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot” begins as a spare, melancholy plea to what seems like a former lover. Each verse begins “If it makes you less sad…” and ends with “I’m glad that you can forgive/Only hoping as time goes you can forget.” This track is less jaded than those preceding it. The guilt evident in the lyrics and Lacey’s delivery make the track incredibly powerful, especially as it builds to the final minute, a series of metaphors that paint an almost angelic vision of his betrayed love: “You are calm and reposed, let your beauty unfold…pale white…spring keeps you ever close….you are the blood in my veins.” The narrator acknowledges himself as a danger to things of beauty and things he loves, clear when he sings despairingly, “Call me a safe bet, I’m betting I’m not.”
The closing track, “Play Crack the Sky,” is a beautifully crafted extended metaphor in which a shipwreck symbolizes a failed relationship. The imagery on this track evokes the feelings one would have upon realizing they were on a (proverbial) sinking ship. The song is a slow acoustic ballad in which the speaker recounts the story of two lovers on a sinking ship. The tale begins problematically as the narrator says they sent out an S.O.S. call. He goes on to say the two had spent “Four months at sea, four months of calm seas,” only to have the ship wash up off the coast of Montauk Point, located on the Eastern-most point of the band’s home of Long Island (further proof that the album’s narrator is Lacey himself). The lovers were comfortable and may even have been approaching a milestone in their relationship. Unfortunately, the two were struck by “one hundred foot faces of God’s good ocean gone wrong.” The speaker believes that relationships are risky because like in sailing, one faces not only the prospect of uncertain waters but the reality that one could die alone. Of the two alternatives, the speaker chooses to go down with the ship alongside his lover as opposed to going on alone. The song ends with the lines, “You know that you are not alone/Need you like water in my lungs.” This shows that despite the contempt the speaker feels for their partner, they both know that neither is capable of leaving the other.
Themes of anxiety, loneliness, and abandonment, the effective use of the water motif, and a slew of literary devices makes this one of the most authentic, self-aware emo albums in recent memory. The unreliable nature of the narrator – arrogant, sensitive, dramatic – reinforces the idea of “Deja Entendu” (or, “Already Heard”), that everything that seems original, even lived experience, is really just one in an infinite series of similar occurrences that are nearly indistinguishable from one another. This album is a rebellion against that notion, though it acknowledges the futility of that rebellion early on – no matter what you do, “Everyone who lives will someday die and die alone.”