Friday, September 14, 2012

Cross Section: Brand New and Crime In Stereo

For Long Island, no music scene was more fruitful than that which emerged in the late 90s and early 2000s. Bands like Bayside, Glassjaw and Taking Back Sunday found much - if a little undeserved - success a realm that, for whatever reason, reached past high school. Then there was the massive success that was Brand New. Ask nearly anyone who was in high school between 2002 and 2009, and they can easily list off their favorite Brand New cuts. Brand New’s success is no surprise. They started off with an above average pop-punk album and continually challenged themselves with each release in an effort to evolve. There was also the presence of Jesse Lacey, an oft frustrating front man who had a very contentious relationship with his fans. This relationship, I think, made the fans that much more rabid. While Lacey was known to be unwilling to give them an inch, his fans would go exponential lengths for him in an effort to gain attention. Mixed with the fertile soil that was the Long Island scene, it would have been more surprising if Brand New wasn’t a smash hit.

Residing in a hardcore corner unbeknownst to most whose introduction to Long Island was Your Favorite Weapon was melodic-hardcore band Crime In Stereo. Crime In Stereo was started by Alex Dunne; he was a member of post-hardcore band The Rookie Lot, in which Jesse Lacey played as well. Dunne chose to go the more aggressive route and Crime In Stereo quickly became a much adored Long Island Hardcore band. Brand New and Crime In Stereo’s career trajectory have many similarities. They both released four albums, one of each were genre-defying. They both challenged themselves continuously throughout their careers. They were both stalwarts of the mid 2000s punk scenes, in their respective scenes of course. So, two years after Crime In Stereo’s break-up and three years after Brand New’s final full-length release (by their own accord) which career holds up better to scrutiny? Let’s compare.

Freshman Album: Finding Sturdy Ground

Your Favorite Weapon: Released in October, 2001 this album is often cited as a crucial release, although upon relistening to it, I’m unsure why. The album starts off strong enough with “The Shower Scene,” a by the numbers angsty pop-punk song that, at least, is not embarrassing to listen to. From there, though…things get dicey. We have “Jude Law and A Semester Abroad,” a song that’s lyrically mysoginistic where victim blaming and violent images of women dying in plane crashes abound. “Mixtape” name drops the Smiths like (500) Days of Summer, but it’s somehow more annoying. “Last Chance to Lose Your Keys” is about masturbating but isn’t tongue in cheek? Curious. The only song I can really give kudos to is “70x7,” but even that is only because of the anecdotal evidence that Jesse Lacey absolutely hates that song. And if anyone ever says “Soco Amaretto Lime” is a good song but doesn’t mention the shit production, I’ll punch them in the dick.  So, generously, I’ll say “this album has not aged well at all.”

Explosives and The Will To Use Them: Similarly, Crime In Stereo’s first album is also their weakest, but not nearly as strikingly as Brand New. Explosives lives up to its name as  the album immediately kicks into gear with a gang shout “We’re all going to hell!” and then barrels through the next 12 songs in a blistering 28 minutes.  This album, while it slows down occasionally, never has an acoustic break (thank Christ) and packs a punch right up until “Arson At 563,” which demonstrates CIS’s knack for knowing exactly how to close an album. Here, you can even notice the staggering difference in lyrical content. Brand New obviously is hungup on ex-girlfriends and very contentious towards everything. Even though I’d assume that Crime In Stereo is the angrier of the two, Crime In Stereo’s lyrics exude a kind of waywardness towards their “trainwreck of a life.” They comment on more societal issues (“No Gold Stars for Nationalism”) where Brand New resigns to bitching about high school. This is a good album, but our own Kyle Murphy put it best when he called Explosives a “very good b-sides” record in the kitchen of the party that time we became friends.

Sophomore Record: Defining Genres

The Troubled Stateside: Like Brand New, Crime In Stereo’s sophomore release is easily their most revered amongst fans old and new. This defines Long Island melodic hardcore. Easily accessible yet unstoppably aggressive The Troubled Stateside takes stabs at everything from center to far-right republicans, lazy kids living off their parents money, and most importantly, the state of their own lives as a post-grad. The shotgun blast that is “Everything Changes Nothing Is Truly Lost” calls out faux-art students hiding from loan collectors. “Sudan” comments on the mundanity of suburban life, but somehow manages to remain captivating and relevant. That’s a lot harder to do that it sounds; there are few things more banal than the frustration of suburbia. Then, there’s the closing trifecta. “Dark Island City,” the pseudo instrumental into “For Exes,” arguably the best song they ever wrote, and then the grand finale “I, Stateside.” This album kills it, and many would argue that this album was when Crime In Stereo peaked. I wouldn’t disagree.

Deja Entendu: Let’s just get this out of the way: Deja Entendu is light-years better than Your Favorite Weapon in every way, shape, and form. It’s structured better, paced better, and sounds better. Similarly to The Troubled Stateside, it starts off with a short introduction track that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The tone is wholly different from that of Your Favorite Weapon; instead of angsty, the band comes off as resentful. But of whom? No longer of the girls that left Lacey masturbating on a Saturday night, but Brand New’s own fanbase. A friend of mine posited recently that Lacey has always been equally resentful of his fanbase and resentful of himself. By and large, Lacey’s music taste has always seemed more aimed towards indie rock, but here he is stuck making music for kids who listen to New Found Glory. His love of the Smiths, Modest Mouse, and Built to Spill is well known and you can spot the influence. However, his lyrics always seemed more directed than Morrisey’s devil-may-care English self-commiserating. Where Issac Brock’s song writing style is defined by his interpolation of American colloqiualisms, Lacey’s attempt at playing with idioms seems clumsy and he lacks the metrical sensibility (and guitar chops) of Doug Marsch. So, it’s no wonder that Lacey comes off as resentful in songs like “I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t.” But, where the previous angst stunted the song writing, it only helps the effort here. I also have to applaud Lacey’s use of challenging images here.  Perhaps one of the most complex allegories, the band constructs an uncomfortable five minutes describing a date rape from the point of view of the rapist: the events parallel a band being preyed on by a label. We’re also treated to the violent images of soldiers getting their throats slit in “Good To Know If I Ever Need Attention All I Have to Do Is Die.” Awful song title but great song. Unfortunately, once again Brand New falls short of Crime In Stereo in closing the album. Acoustic closers may do it for every one else, but I am partial to the idea of putting “Play Crack the Sky” before “Good To Know…” Like The Troubled Stateside, many people decree this as Brand New’s strongest effort. This time though, I think nostalgia is crippling people’s judgement.

Junior Record: Long Island Burns

The Devil And God Are Raging Inside of Me: Ah, the third record: always apt for a comeback from the sophomore slump, yes, but what happens when you’re second album didn’t flop? You experiment. Following a three-year break and nine leaked songs, Brand new finally released The Devil and God are Raging Inside of Me in November 2006. The album was decidedly a departure from previous material. It was louder. More abrasive. More sinister. Often uncomfortable. Lacey and co. had moved into a time when their friends began to die and they began to grow even more resentful of their fanbase; evidenced as their playing of “Degausser” twice in a row at Bamboozle 2007. However, The Devil and God channeled all of that unrest into Brand New’s strongest record of their career.  First and foremost, this record is LOUD. Howling shrieks cascade into explosive wall of sounds. They continue to challenege themselves, taking chances with their songwriting structure and futher obfuscating their lyrical content. Some similar themes are still there (lost love in “Not The Sun”) but overall, everything about this album is stronger. My main complaint, once again, is the closing track. Do we really need an acoustic closer every album? Regardless, I do genuinely enjoy “Handcuffs,” but again, it would have fared better in the middle of the album. That decision notwithstanding, I feel The Devil and God is Brand New’s defining album of their career.

…Is Dead: Following in Brand New’s developmental footsteps, Crime In Stereo decided to attempt a departure from the melodic hardcore mold they had conquered previously. The roots of hardcore are still there, but overall the band’s scope is much larger. Do I dare refer to this album as “cerebral?” “XXXX” (For Exes, four x’s. Get it?) answers that rhetorical question right off the bat: pounding drums open the track and soon we’re hearing lead singer Kristian Hallbert pleading for a challenge. “Say I won’t” as if an entire mission statement for the album emerges in those three words. No sooner this soaks in are we thrust into the weird, decidedly druggy jam “…But You Are Vast,” and then as we blink and we’re smoking cigarettes for our first time to “Small Skeletal.” Like Brand New, this is an album that has burned an image into my mind permantely in “Unfortunate Tourists.” Post-coital sitting on the edge of a bed. An unfortunate tourist in an unforgiving foreign land. Personal thoughts aside, you have the faux-nostalgic “Nixon” (Brand New are you writing this down?) and then the creepy and quiet “Vicious Teeth.” The album does not end as powerfully as The Troubled Stateside did, but the “Orbiter”/ “Choker” combo is a strong one regardless. Now, can I definiteively say The Troubled Stateside is better than …Is Dead? Not at all. The Troubled Stateside is endlessly more accessible, true, but …Is Dead is challenging in all the right ways. Both are phenomenal albums.

Senior Record: Life's a Train Then You Die

I was trying to describe you to someone: I know the title was named after a poem, but it is a truly beautiful name for a record. My friend, however, likes to refer this album as “Live In Tokyo” because of the somewhat bizarre cover art. I was… is a very bizarre album. The sound is cohesive, no doubt, but there are some puzzling moments that still somehow work. “Queue modernes” kicks off the record, takes a cue (eh? See what I did there?) from Brand New with an ethereal ambiance that blows into a jam. There’s the closest thing to an acoustic to electric song Crime In Stereo ever released in “Young;” a song that’s brutal none the less. They don’t relent on political commentary (“Republica”), it’s just a bit more subtle than before. Perhaps a bit too much. The most confusing moment in the entire record is a cover of  their own “Dark Island City” that actually builds on the original and fits within the context of the album. Then Crime In Stereo puts forth the best closer they ever wrote; a perfect end to their career with “I Cannot Answer You Tonight.” It’s the only song on the record that harkens to their early days without compromising their sound. No other song even attempts it. Is this album a dissapointment? I loved it when it was released, but three years later I rarely spin it. I’d rather just listen to their earlier work. Sometimes when I’m sad I’ll throw on “Young,” or attempt to cheer myself up with “I cannot answer you tonight,” but when Crime In Stereo announced they were breaking up, there was a sense of calm about the announcement. They didn’t end on a high note, per se, but you could track their sound and their trajectory and Live In Tokyo had a sense of finality about.  Crime In Stereo Is Dead. Long Live Crime In Stereo.

Daisy: Another final (?) album that was the source of great controversy, Daisy actually packs one hell of a punch. The record is as loud as The Devil and God but way dirtier. If you had told me that the band that wrote “Sudden Death In Carolina” would open their fourth record with a sample from a 1920’s opera singer, I would have punched you right in the mouth. But then again, here we are. Like Crime In Stereo, Brand New was not content to stagnate. This record is often overlooked because it pretty much completely eschews everything that made Brand New likable. There are no catchy sing-alongs here. You can check your angst at the door; this is unadulterated anger and frustration now. What’s that? You’re too soft for a forty-five minute blitzkrieg of sound? Well…I guess they put Noro at the end of the record for you. If Brand New had released this under a different name, I’m sure the praise would have been unanimous. Alas, precedent cripples judgment once again and a solid album is overshadowed by its overzealous older brother.

Post Script: Conclusions Upon Graduating

Brand New and Crime In Stereo are seminal early 2000s bands. Without Brand New, we actually may have been spared a bunch godawful pop-punk bands. The reach of Crime In Stereo has yet to be determined. I have no doubt both will be cited as heavily influential in the coming years, but to what extent? When melodic hardcore inevitably comes back into the forefront, will people be name dropping Crime In Stereo offhand as much as they do Cap’n Jazz for Emo? Will Daisy be the impetus for a noisey, and hopefully listenable, pop-punk music?

In terms of preferences, I think my allegiance is clear. I will always live and die by Crime In Stereo whereas Brand New remains a band I love, but love to be critical about even more. What are your thoughts?

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