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One time the musician and artist Daniel Johnston was asked how it felt to live with bipolar disorder. He replied, Like the devil and god is raging inside me. From that quote the band Brand New derived the name of their third and certainly most impressive album The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me. The album was recorded in Oxford, MS for a period of a year while the members of Brand New lived there. Brand New hails from Long Island, the same place where Taking Back Sunday started. The members of both bands even played in a pop-punk band, the Rookie Lot, together before joining their respective bands. Along with Taking Back Sunday, Brand New was a band that was part of the emo blow up we all saw. By the time Brand New released their second album, Deja Entendu, that pop-punk/emo scene had become watered down to and Brand New began to distance themselves from that. A more matured sound helped make Deja Entendu an underground smash.
On The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, Brand New has taken lyrics that could easily play out like normal self-questioning, dark post-punk, but they do more. They managed to take post-punk, and twist it into something brash. Sprinkles of Modest Mouse indie riffs and eeriness not seen since Radiohead are thrown in all around. Front man Jesse Lacey helps carve out Brand New’s own niche in music. Where Radiohead will have lyrics about killer cars, Lacey lays his soul out there. Pain and suffering are obvious from the dark lyrics but Lacey’s use of vocals that can range from a tranquil melodic tone or passionate, painful yell carry the album to new heights. Combine that with the haunting riffs composed by guitarist Vincet Accardi and the powerful drumming of Brian Lane and makes for music that is so sharp it can draw blood. Darkness is draped over the entire record, like a thick fog blocking out almost all sunlight. And how could it not? Devil and God was dedicated to the 15 friends and family members that died during the recording of this album. There is not a lick of happiness around, Lacey’s disturbingly beautiful imagery of death as a way of questioning everything from whom he is to what will happen when he’s gone. The first time you listen to this album is not easy, but after that this is an album you’ll still have 30 years from now and always cherish.
From the first track “Sowing Season” you’re sucked into what is left of Lacey’s dark, desolate soul. The way Brand New can in one song go from tranquil and pensive to a picked up firestorm of guitar and percussion symbolizes how tragedy affects us. When tragedy first happens, people are moping, slow and depressed at first, just like the song starts, then we get angry and have to know why this happened. From the bipolar nature of “Sowing Season” we fade into “Millstone” which feels more a long brdige of the first track. “Millstone” shows how Lacey questions who he is now and what he was before: “I used to be the glue that held my friends together / Now they don’t talk and we don’t go out / I used to know the name of every person I kissed / Now I made this bed, and I can’t fall asleep in it” (Lacey 13-16). Instead of sounding whiney and self-absorbed, the twirling, distorted sound of Accardi’s riff add substance to the song that listeners can connect to.
The third track “Jesus Christ” is the most haunting song of the album. Brilliantly composed, the song remains elusive in the opening minutes. The use of only two chords, provides a buildup caution and tension as Lacey questions Jesus on the nature of death. A resolution is finally reached around three minutes when the third chord comes in as Lacey abandons his initial anxiety and expresses his full despair: “So do you think that we could work out a psalm / So I’ll know it’s you and that it’s over so I won’t even try / I know you’ll come for the people like me” (Lacey 23-25). Then quiet, it seems as if the song is over, suddenly it reappears as if Brand New reiterates its distrust and doubt of the afterlife.
“Limousine”, track five, acts as a centerfold for the record and clocks in at over seven minutes as it constantly alludes to the tragic limousine accident and death of 7-year old Katie Flynn after she left her aunt’s wedding where she was a flower girl. She died at the hands of a drunken driver. Lacey’s ability to allude to the accident with lyrics like: “He’s drinking up. He’s all-American, / and he’ll drive. / He’s volunteered with grace to end your life” (Lacey 6-8) and utilizing darkly mellow melodies and acoustic chords make for a chilling accretion. Progressively the vocals and distortion gets louder as we approach the bridge and Lacey switches to the drunk driver’s point of view: “This guilt that will crush me / and in the choir I saw our sad Messiah. / He was bored and tired of my laments. / said, ‘I died for you one time, but never again'” (Lacey 25-28). The song then proceeds to revert back to a similar manner to the way it started with a repeated line of: “Well I love you so much, but do me a favor baby and don’t reply, ‘cuz I can dish it out but I can’t take it.” (Lacey 32-33). Lacey then replaces “I” with the numbers one through seven (the age of Katie Flynn). Once at seven He repeats “Seven loves you so much…” a few times with a background melody growing exponentially louder with each repeat until the song climaxes yet again.
The instrumental seventh track “Welcome to Bangkok”, holds the album together as a journey. The eerie opening of the song while a man in the background repeats the almost inaudible line “Space cadet pull out” leads into the fast strumming of an acoustic guitar. A definite build-up is sensed when drummer Brian Lee starts rapidly tapping on the cymbals. The climax is reached when all the frustration built up in Brand New blasts out of every pore. The intertwining of three distorted guitars playing together forms what sounds like screaming. Even though there are no lyrics the sinister song fits into the album’s feel of despair.
“Not the Sun” and “Archers”, tracks 8 and 11 respectively, are the only two tracks that conjure up memories of older Brand New. With both of these songs the tempo is picked up immensely. A lighter tone is used in both of the songs with a cleaner guitar sound and complex upbeat drumming. Lacey has the ability to sing beautiful melodies, and here he can really utilize his skills as a singer. At first listen it seems that these songs are out of place on such a dark record, but it saves the album. Without these songs the album would be a black hole of pain. The thick fog of depression that hangs around this album manages let’s in just enough light with these two songs.
The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me is one of the most complete albums to ever have been released. Every piece of this album fits together like a puzzle. The way Vince Accardi composed the music is perfect for the vocals of Lacey, and the brooding lyrics of Lacey pull this album into one. It’s dark, desolate, and bleak but it is truly raw emotion recorded on a CD. I would give this album a 10/10 but Jesse Lacey feels this record could have been better so I will give it a 9.9.
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