REVIEW: Brand New – “I Am A Nightmare”
by Chad Jewett
The Cult of Brand New only truly began reaching its apex as the band grew murkier in their aesthetic, more ominous in their narratives. First there was the preemptive leaking of the band’s demos for what would eventually become The Devil and God Are Ranging Inside Me – a clandestine release that revealed a band embracing all the most anxious and troubled moments of 2003’s classic Deja Entendu and pairing those sounds to the mostly sharply dark sounds of Meat Is Murder and the flinty post-punk that preceded it. While the Long Island quartet scrapped much of those demos, with bits and pieces showing up in the proper release of The Devil and God, that original aura of moody, tormented introspection was only amplified on the 2006 LP. Brand New had seemingly grown past the young-male angst of their first two albums for something far more complex and poignant – a resigned, defeated sonic world pairing minor keys and In Utero-style discord with a baroque, near-Puritanical contemplation of human failure. 2009’s Daisy followed suit – another collection of largely down-beat, haunted music that changed mainly on the margins: embracing some of Glassjaw’s radio-ready hardcore here, some post-rock inflections there. What remained consistent was the sense of mystery that the band was managing to cloak all of this in. Even if the tuneful post-grunge murk of “At the Bottom” was familiar, Brand New managed to obscure all that in ghostliness. It’s an intangible thing, but the band, at this point, was excelling at creating a world unto themselves.
It’s in this context that we receive “I Am A Nightmare” – the band’s newest single and a distinct about-face from the late-night opacity of their past two albums. Running a compact three minutes, built around three choruses, two verses, and a bridge (though Brand New rarely departed from that sort of classic formula, even at their most idiosyncratic) the song is built to support Jesse Lacey’s central melodies, which are the most overtly tuneful he’s produced since the band’s first album, 2001’s unremarkable Your Favorite Weapon. Lacey has kept some of the Morrissey-indebted theatricality that started to define his performances from Deja Entendu on, delivering his lines with a certain self-aware flourish, but the song itself presents an odd turn for Brand New. As with last year’s “Mene” (which benefitted from being more taut and biting, Lacey’s melody double with shouts), you can sense Brand New toying with something more streamlined and fleet, the dense shadows of The Devil and God cleared out in favor of a stylized austerity that borders on thinness. “I Am A Nightmare” is undoubtedly catchy – Brand New never lost their ear for hooks, even at their most willfully obscure – and the song smacks of a band working from early instincts rather than a cagey desire to subvert. And yet one can’t help but recall that Brand New once struck a more perfect balance between those impulses on songs like “The Archers Bows Have Broken” – pop-punk songs delivered with impressionistic imagination. “I Am A Nightmare” ultimately excites for all of its energy, and confounds for its willingness to stop there.