Deja Entendu

There is something about Deja Entendu that tears at your guts, but in a way that is so painfully delicious that you?ll listen to it over and over again until you’re sick of it. Then you’ll listen some more, because the way it feels to listen to it is like the sick pleasure some derive from dragging dull knives across their skin. To quote, “I Will Play My Game beneath the Spin Light,”

Watch me as I cut myself wide open on this stage
Yes, I am paid to spill my guts

Brand New take emo to an entirely new level on DE. Lead vocalist Jesse Lacey is a nasally tenor, like a lot of emo frontmen, but Brand New have a grittier sound than a lot of the emo groups in the mainstream today (e.g. Dashboard Confessional, Blink-182, Good Charlotte). In fact, they pretty much abandon traditional emo song construction. There’s very little of the despair about ex-girlfriends that prevailed on their previous album Your Favorite Weapon, and the three-chord song with the predictable progression is all but absent. The “album length letters from pussy-jail” that Jessica Harper calls into question are cannot be found. The lyrical content is unlike anything I’ve heard; a lot of it is in the first person. Not the universal, angsty, white teenage male that seems to be narrator in a lot of emo. Rather, when Jesse Lacey sings, “I,” he means, “I, Jesse Lacey.”

Wrote more postcards than hooks
I read more maps than books
Feel like every chance to leave
Is another chance I should have took
Every minute is a mile
I’ve never felt so hollow
I’m an old abandoned church with broken pews and empty aisles

It may be self-indulgent, but it is good poetry. I always wonder how they came up with that last line. There are all kinds of things about this album that twist the mind into yogurt covered pretzels dripping with metaphor and sticky riffs that attach themselves to the roof of your brain. And tongue as you might, “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” won’t come loose that you can swallow it and shit it out. “Quiet Things” comes closest to a traditional emo song, but it is saved from mediocrity by biting lyrics, a screamy chorus, and three-part harmonies. Not to mention the non-imitative polyphony that propels us toward the grandiose resolution.

The album is constructed so that you’re never overwhelmed by the more aggressive tracks. The opening track “Tautou,” is a mere minute and forty-two seconds of a single electric guitar with a heavy chorus pedal, a simple drum beat, and the repetition of the phrase:

I’m sinking like a stone in the sea
I’m burning like a bridge for your body

Then the album symbol-crashes into “Sic Transit Gloria: Glory Fades,” which has funky, bass-driven verses and punk-rock choruses. From there the album alternates the softer and slower tracks with more aggressive songs. But all of the tracks feel like, well, art. There isn’t anything particularly misogynistic about the album, either. This most certainly isn’t “cock rock.” Even “Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis,” which is about picking up a girl at a bar, maintains a degree of complexity and musicianship that saves it from sexism. The album is a collection of short stories that capture the broader narrative of life as Brand New see it. Every detail of every song feels like it was deliberately placed in relation to the rest of the album. Even the song titles are so strange that they couldn’t have been random:

Deja Entendu Track listing

1. Tautou
2. Sic Transit Gloria: Glory Fades
3. I Will Play My Game Beneath The Spin Light
4. Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t
5. The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows
6. The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot*
7. Jaws Theme Swimming
8. Me vs. Maradona vs. Elvis*
9. Guernica ^
10. Good To Know That If I Ever Need Attention All I Have To Do Is Die
11. Play Crack the Sky

* Songs that are obviously about “girls”
^ Named after a Picasso painting

“Play Crack the Sky” is one of the greatest lyrical metaphors I’ve ever heard. It could be that he is actually narrating the events of a ship caught in a storm of the cost of New York, or he is speaking of his doomed relationship with a loved one. It may be both. I simply have to post the entirety of the lyrics in order for you to understand fully:

Sent out the SOS call
It’s a quarter past four in the morning
The storm broke our second anchor line
Four months at sea
Four months of calm seas to be pounded
In the shallows off the tip of Montauk Point
They call them rogues
They travel fast and alone
One hundred foot faces of God’s good ocean gone wrong
What they call love is a risk,
Cause you will always get hit out of nowhere by some wave
And end up on your own
The hole in the hull defied the crew’s attempts to bail us out
And flooded the engines and radio, half buried bow
Your tongue is a rudder
It steers the whole ship
Sends your words past your lips, keeps them safe behind your teeth
But the wrong words will strand you
Come off course while you sleep
Sweep your boat out to sea or dashed to bits on the reef
The vessel groans the ocean pressures its frame
Off the port I see the lighthouse through the sleet and the rain
And I wish for one more day to give my love and repay debts
But the morning finds our bodies washed up thirty miles west
They say that the captain stays fast with the ship through still and storm
But this ain’t the Dakota, and the water is cold
We won’t have to fight for long
This is the end
This story’s old but it goes on and on until we disappear
Calm me and let me taste the salt you breathed while you were underneath
I am the one who haunts your dreams of mountains sunk below the sea
I spoke the words but never gave a thought to what they all could mean
I know this is what you want
A funeral keeps both of us apart
You know that you are not alone
Need you like water in my lungs
This is the end

So what, though? What difference could this album make in the context of the rock world? Well, if it could work its way into the mainstream, it could do plenty.

As I mentioned before, this album should set a new standard for emo as a genre. Bands like Good Charlotte should be quivering in their boots. Better yet, they should be taken out and shot for the crap that they produce. Deja Entendu does something that no Good Charlotte or MEST record has ever done; it captures a broad range of emotions and experiences in a poetic and, most importantly, sophisticated manner. These songs aren’t about high school crushes and break-ups and sloppy sex in your girlfriend’s bedroom while her parents aren’t home. This is emo for grownups. If the fans of the rock world would simply demand sophistication and material for adults, the artists will make it.


2 Responses to “Deja Entendu”

  1. February 9, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    I know this is an old post but i came across it and here I am.

    “I?ve never felt so hollow
    I?m an old abandoned church with broken pews and empty aisles

    It may be self-indulgent, but it is good poetry. I always wonder how they came up with that last line.”

    I think the last line is referring to the line before it, where the word “hollow” can also be seen/heard to mean “hallow.” Like it means both at the same time. When you look at it like that, the line takes on a whole new set of complex, seemingly contradictory possible meanings. What do you think?

  2. 2 becca
    August 15, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    i’m not sure how i got here, but i felt the need to correct the misconception about guernica being a girlfriend song. it’s actually about jesse lacey’s grandfather who got diagnosed with cancer.

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