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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Brand New: Your Favorite Weapon


1) The Shower Scene; 2) Jude Law And A Semester Abroad; 3) Sudden Death In Carolina; 4) Mix Tape; 5) Failure By Design; 6) Last Chance To Lose Your Keys; 7) Logan To Government Center; 8) The No Seatbelt Song; 9) Seventy Times 7; 10) Secondary; 11) Magazines; 12) Soco Amaretto Lime.

Time for a little bit of emo, of which Brand New are the front line representatives in the New England area: Jesse Lacey on vocals and rhythm guitar, Vincent Accardi on lead guitar, Garrett Tierney on bass, and Brian Lace on drums — everything very concise and economical. This debut album was released on the Triple Crown label and, apparently, did not chart at all, but it helped them establish a footing, and even though it is usually dismissed as a «stepping stone» to success, it is not really that different from everything they'd do afterwards.

The angle under which this song collection could be discussed best, as far as my perspective is concerned, is «why the hell don't I hate this?» Because, really, the potential of this material to annoy and irritate is glaringly obvious. The songwriting is shoddy, with generic indie-rock riffs all over the place and the «quiet verse / loud chorus» opposition serving as the basis for most of the hooks. The lyrical and emotional themes of the songs concern breakups, breakups, and still more breakups, regardless of the song titles (yes, even a song called ʽLogan To Government Cen­terʼ is about a breakup — the title just metaphorically refers to a highway exit near Boston). The vocals are screechy, and neither the main nor the auxiliary guy have any individual manner of singing that would set them apart from college rockers all over the world.

But on the positive side, there is at the same time a tightness and a lightness to these tunes that makes these guys tolerable, and at times even likeable. As a band, they are very well coordinated; the drummer is smooth and flexible, the guitarists lock into each other with perfect precision, and they merge together pop structures and punk simplicity in a very professional fashion (they cer­tainly know their skill way beyond three chords, but this does not prevent them from a speedy and aggressive sound whenever they feel like it). Even more importantly, there is a whiffy sense of humor and a touch of intelligence behind the tunes — the songs are neither too whiny nor too foul-mouthed. It's almost as if they had a plan, to try and take this most boring of subjects (col­lege boy meets college girl, shit happens, college boy dumps college girl or vice versa) and see if they can present it in a way that does not annoy the hell out of demanding listeners. It doesn't always work, but they manage to do it while avoiding many of the usual clichés.

The thing is, the lyrics on their own look pretty darn bad ("so don't apologize, I hope you choke and die, search your cell for something with which to hang yourself" is not an atypical example), but they are delivered with a slightly ironic twist: this nervous nerdy character that Lacey por­traits in most of the songs sounds like a half-sincere idiot, half-clown who feeds on nervous tension but never truly suffers from suicidal (or even girlfriend-cidal) tendencies. On ʽMix Tapeʼ, he drops an almost jokey self-reference ("And I'm sick of your tattoos, and the way you don't appreciate Brand New... and me!"); on ʽSecondaryʼ, full of lyrical references to self-mutilation and suicide, he sings about all that stuff as if it were just an obligatory teenage ritual — all too often, it seems like a parody on teen angst, and it could well have been intentional.

Not that it saves the album from being forgettable: melody-wise, the songs have little to dis­tinguish themselves from millions of equally faceless pop-punk chord sequences. But the sense of sarcasm is refreshing, particularly on the last track, ʽSoco Amaretto Limeʼ, a semi-drunk acoustic anthem proclaiming that "I'm gonna stay eighteen forever" (hear that, Alice Cooper?), "we're the coolest kids and we take what we can get", and, finally, "you're just jealous cause we're young and in love" — all in perfect irony, of course. This is the best possible course: instead of puffing and huffing and showing off the overblown «tragic sincerity» of hormonal outbursts, lighten up and concentrate on the «fun» aspect of failed relationships, if at all possible. No thumbs up, but I expected so much worse that thumbing this down would feel unjust — even if everybody around seems to agree that the band got much better after this record (where I would quibble with the word «much», but that's just me).

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