Welcome to Jukebox Breakdown, a new column where we write about songs we love. Less about overarching themes or through-lines, Jukebox Breakdown is simply a space for our thoughts on perfect tracks.
Jukebox Breakdown: Brand New – “The Archers Bows Have Broken”
by Chad Jewett
Obsessed with death, guilt, sin, trauma, sex, god, and existentialist questioning, Brand New’s 2006 album The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me is one of emo’s most unsettling albums, an hour long triptych through damaged, remorseful humanity. Where 2003’s Deja Entendu was often playfully glib with its rendering of the play-acting inherent in emo at its most theatrical, The Devil and God was deadly in earnest about plumbing pained interiorities. Arriving at the album’s end, and built from expressive post-hardcore guitars and wide-screen hooks where the rest of The Devil and God is dependent on mood and rising tension, “The Archers Bows Have Broken,” felt, in some ways like a moment of fresh air in what, by the forty-fifth minute of the album, was an almost oppressively anxious psychodrama. In others it feels like the last twist of a knife.
“The Archers Bows Have Broken” not only sheds light on the ways in which the self-loathing of The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me borders on self-indulgence (a point that the lyrics hammer away at continuously); it also cannily excoriates the solipsism of emo. Indeed, Jesse Lacey is quick to ask: “Who do you carry that torch for, my young man? / Do you believe in anything? / Do you carry it around just to burn things down?” As the last great emo album to surface before the regenerative efforts of Algernon Cadwallader, Snowing, and 1994!, Lacey asks the right questions about what all of the problematic navel gazing of the genre was adding up to.
Later, the one-time Taking Back Sunday member gets even more real: “You’re shouting so loud, you barely joyous, broken thing.” That this arrives in the form of one of Brand New’s three or four best hooks simply reinforces the insatiable taste for irony at the heart of the band’s narrative concerns (this would somehow expand further on the band’s 2009 LP, Daisy). In some ways, Lacey is approaching the meta-narrative self-analysis of Tim Kasher, who spent much of Cursive’s Domestica and The Ugly Organ noting the grim capitalism that turns emotional turmoil into profitable art.
Eventually, Lacey asks “What did you learn tonight?”, having considerable, dark fun at the opacity of The Devil and God, the way it withholds the melodrama and catchphrases of Deja Entendu. Arriving at album’s end, the question becomes a challenge: put all of this together. The take-away is that perhaps you’ve learned nothing. Certainly you learn little about Lacey — which is the point. That in-joke is underlined by the fact that “The Archers Bows Have Broken” is the only song on The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me that echoes the melodic stadium proportions of Deja, all to tell you that those days are gone and they’re not coming back.