Growing up, my brother and I were inseparable but disagreed about basically everything. Southern suburbia was our Boulder Mobile and, as per the plot line of every Wacky Races episode, we would spend an inordinate amount of time clubbing each other over the head. His weapon of choice was a giant plush toy crocodile with a gigantic tail and these plastic eyes that would catch you on the chin and sting like hell. Mine? The immutable knowledge that I was born before him and therefore superior in every respect.
This Cain and Abel routine, minus the murder, continued throughout primary school and into our teens. When it came to choosing a football team I plumped for Southampton while he picked Newcastle, who were not only better at the time but resided 367 miles away from home. When we were selecting Mario Kart characters, he would quickly nab the most famous Italian plumber of all-time leaving me to sweep up Luigi. A role model who I would mercilessly remind him was much taller than his lesser sibling… and therefore superior in every respect.
As for our music tastes, I loved The Libertines, Franz Ferdinand and bands in leather jackets who graced the pages of the NME. He loved that Sum 41 video where they ripped the piss out of The Strokes. I’ll admit he got me there.
Since we agreed on little else, I still don’t get why we both adore Brand New. I never went through an emo phase. One Christmas we were given tickets to My Chemical Romance - he spent the entire gig in the pit (“Gerard! He looked at me!”) while I stood at the back with the dads like a total killjoy. Similarly, he never believed that an urbane skag addict who could quote Oscar Wilde was the next musical messiah.
If you go to see Jesse Lacey’s sensitive troupe of hard-rockers in the flesh, you’ll quickly realised they’re a band that bring people together. Not just media sorts who tweet a lot, but real life school friends you haven’t seen in years and colleagues from work who you always thought were kind of boring. A standard pre-show ritual boils down to an incessant flurry of pats on the shoulder and “didn’t think I’d see you here” exclamations.
When the house lights go down, it’s even more obvious how much of a cult concern the quartet are. Songs like ‘The Quiet Things No One Ever Knows’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ are yelled aloud lyric for lyric so that the crowd’s intonation even matches Lacey’s angsty squawk. Strikingly, Brand New’s audience members are fiercely partisan about their favourite album. Some scream more for the shrill hysteria of ‘Jude Law and a Semester Abroad’, others twist their vocal chords to the slowburn torpor of ‘Luca’. This makes me wonder what exactly is going to happen with the forthcoming Album Five.
Much like Blondie, The Replacements and countless bands before them, Brand New's debut album was a well-rounded imitation of a scene that pre-dated them. Lacey was briefly a member of Taking Back Sunday before striking out on his own and sharing the stage with post-hardcore bands like Glassjaw. As such, Your Favorite Weapon is stuffed to the brim was alt-rock riffs and head-turning quips: “Last night I swallowed liquor and a lighter / And this morning I threw up fire.”
It’s not a great record, but it was more than good enough to justify a follow-up. For those of you who didn’t spend the early noughties glued to MTV2, adjusting your fringe and toying with the idea of getting a tattoo to piss your parents off, this is where the Brand New story gets interesting.
Deja Entendu was an album that lazier people might simply describe as mature, but actually just wasn’t tied time or scene. Tracks like ‘The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot’ and ‘Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades’, still had preposterously long names and whipsmart lyics that adorned many a MSN Messenger bio. In comparison to what came before, they were more considered and spacious - preferring to build to a climax instead of blow their load in a frenzied volley of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus.
“I am heaven-sent / Don’t you dare forget,” sang Lacey on ‘Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t’, and people didn’t. His songs began to linger on mixtapes, MySpace bios and house party playlists. If someone you knew liked Brand New, they were in the club. The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me cemented this fervent status by stretching out the band’s loud-quiet dynamic and doubling its intensity. ‘Jesus Christ’ was a whispered singalong about crucifixion, ‘Luca’ an acoustic sprawl slowly that slowly descended into a violent mess of screams and soloing. The songs were memorable and they meant something to an increasing number of fans.
In late-ish 2009, before the summer holidays were over, I remember chatting to my brother about who was better: Paramore or Brand New. Daisy and Brand New Eyes had been hit stores within a week of each other and the two albums couldn’t have been more different. One captured a band hellbent on going supermassive, the other would see Jesse Lacey go six years without releasing new music - although not before headlining Wembley Arena.
“I think our records change because when you find out what an audience likes it’s easy to do that again and again, but then people will get sick of that just as much as they don’t like something new that we do,” explained an almost incoherent Lacey at the time.
At the risk of reading too much into that quote, I think what he’s getting at is that Brand New don’t want to be a flavour of the month. Having started out with strict ties to a particular American rock ethos, they’ve done everything possible to avoid being defined by their inception. Even if this means sacrificing their fanbase.
Daisy in particular was a jagged, volte-face of an album. If Kurt Cobain wrote In Utero to shake off Nirvana’s fratboy following, then I suspect Brand New’s fourth LP was created to do a similar job. Opening track ‘Vices’ is summative of the record of a whole, leading on a gospel hymn (‘On Life’s Highway’) before leaping into screams of fuzz and percussion. A near-constant kick drum thud rattles against your temple like the reload mechanism of 10 gauge shotgun.
Despite leaping between abrupt outbursts of chaotic noise ('Gasoline') and languid interludes ('Be Gone'), as well as ditching Lacey's unflinchingly personal lyrical style, Daisy is brilliant in its own flawed way. The kind of record, like Kanye West's Yeezus, that you can discuss for hours without really understanding what it's on about. And if there's one thing Brand New fans love most, it's talking about Brand New.
I remember the car journey home from Wembley with my bro and best mate, where the main topic of discussion was: amazing, crap or still not sure? Still, there was enough intrigue around Daisy to withstand its creators' extended hiatus. So long as they came up with the goods in the end.
Now 'Mene' is finally here, alongside another untitled song, and I'm wondering what I want from another Brand New record. What's going to make me cherish it in the same way as the I did the old records? Obviously, I'd rather the new album wasn't outright terrible - that doesn't seem likely though. As the latest Modest Mouse record will attest, it's a real challenge to completely balls up over half a decade of studio sessions.
When you invest so much in a band, your best payback scenario is a little different to the standard 15 listens and a gig ticket. I've moved out of home now and only see my brother once (maybe twice) a month. We don't argue as much anymore either. Possibly because he gave in and now supports Southampton. Probably because we have better ways to spend our time.
Not everything has to change as you get older though. I really want to share this new record with him and nerd out together over its minute details. That's not something Jesse Lacey gets to control as I hit play on Album Five. Hell, it's not a scenario I'll know has worked out until at least six months after that moment.
Still, all this is what makes Brand New the most exciting band in my world right now.