REVIEW: Brand New – “Mene”
by Chad Jewett
In the Book of Daniel, from the Old Testament, “mene” is one of several words found scrawled on the wall of the palace of Belshazzar, a Babylonian royal. Daniel, a prophet, reads the words and interprets them to signify the fall of the kingdom, the coming end “written on the wall”. You might keep all of this in mind as you spend your two-and-half minutes with Brand New’s new single, “Mene”. The Long Island emo quartet has often submerged themselves in this kind of mythic-classical gloom. The band’s best album, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, is, in Flannery O’Connor’s words, Christ-haunted – full of guilt-sick lapsed Catholics and sinners begging forgiveness in echo chambers. Recall that the LP’s mid-album climax finds Jesus telling an especially pathetic figure “I died for you one time but never again”. Or take a song like “Jesus” – which, poignantly, can’t figure out if its about crushing guilt or vivid beauty. Daisy, for its part, begins with a hymn that bursts harshly into feral hardcore.
This is Brand New’s milieu; the set of codes and images they’ve come to work in to arrive at the perpetually unsettling, dark-night-of-the-soul that has made their last three albums feel like a ghostly trilogy. In fact, the way singer-lyricist Jesse Lacey bends biblical signposts into bitter ruminations is what most directly links “Mene” to the rest of the band’s catalogue. Like Nick Cave or Tom Waits, Lacey knows how unsettling just the slightest twist to an old archetype can be. Sonically, the song is less oceanic than Deja Entendu, less coiled and dense than Daisy (though it does maintain that album’s punk electricity), less bathed in The Devil and God’s depressiveness. Instead, the song is defined by momentum and a lean guitar jangle that borders on some hardcore-inflected version of alt-country. Lacey’s voice continues to draw you in and scare you at once – he has a character actor’s gift for emphasis – and the band still has that subtle talent for turning nightmares into pop songs. There’s a perfect middle that “Mene” lands in – of a piece with Brand New’s continuing soul-searching, yet tangibly new. The single’s cover features a snake shedding its skin: new layers over the same old fangs.
(A previous version of this review mis-spelled Jesse Lacey’s name as “Jessie”.)