Brand New used to be a smart-ass pop-punk/emo band, one that produced better-than-average sing-along fodder for mourning exes, then dissing them, then mourning them again, back in the early part of the decade, when doing that sort of thing could get you a spot on the Warped Tour, a video on MTV2, and possibly a deal with a major label. Like so many of their peers, Brand New got a shot at the big time, but they used their Interscope backing to ditch their previous sound entirely and craft an ambitious leftfield stunner. An imposing edifice of unsettling post-punk by way of OK Computer-era Radiohead’s melancholy guitar theatrics, 2006’s The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, found the band making more progress in three years than most make in a lifetime.
Daisy continues where that album left off, with 40 minutes of the band’s darkest material to date. The change in mood is obvious just from reading the track list, where cheeky confessionals a la “OK, I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t” have been supplanted by evocative monosyllabic titles like “Bed” and “Sink.” If anything, the songs themselves are bleaker than the ones on Devil, most notably because their emphasis on mood, texture, and stormy atmospherics comes at the expense of straightforward hooks. The album does contain some exceptionally clever melodies (the vocal bridge of “Sink,” for example, uses an offbeat rhyme scheme to strange but ultimately compelling effect), but many songs lack an easy point of entry: They either pummel the listener with abrasive art-rock or build suspense while forgoing any kind of climax for multiple tracks at a time. Though less bloated than those on previous releases, the songs here are perhaps even less accessible. Sure, a restless, seven-minute epic can be bewildering, but there’s something equally alienating about an aimless, three-minute song with no obvious payoff.
If the songwriting on Daisy marks a departure from Brand New’s previous effort, it may be because the songs mine an entirely different set of influences. This time out, the band appears to be channeling the angst-rock ghosts of the ‘90s. Lead single “At the Bottom” finds singer Jesse Lacey doing his best Isaac Brock impression, though the band behind him sounds as much like Mission of Burma as they do Modest Mouse; on the harrowing “In a Jar,” Lacey’s muffled screams are reminiscent of David Yow’s performances on the Jesus Lizard’s Goat. But it’s guitarist Vince Acardi who dominates the album with leads that, at their most sinister (“Noro”), recall Nirvana circa In Utero, and, at their stateliest (“You Stole”), My Bloody Valentine circa Loveless.
The bad news is that Brand New’s heterodox approach to making art-rock racket doesn’t always pay dividends. Abrasive soft/loud dynamics remain a major crutch for the group’s songwriting, and with so much of the album’s runtime either whispered or shrieked, Brand New forgoes the opportunity to explore the more interesting places in between. It’s only when they check that tendency that they come up with their most compelling material: For example, the seething title track, where dissonant guitar melodies cycle behind a slow-burning vocal refrain that strains with tension but never devolves into full-on throat shredding. By comparison, the straightforward ballads and rockers sound one-dimensional. There’s also an issue with relative consistency. “You Stole,” is such a hauntingly gorgeous gem that none of the album’s other quiet tracks live up to it, and the band is wise to save “In a Jar” for the album’s third act, since it alone manages to be truly visceral where other loud cuts are merely, well, loud.
Brand New confronts listeners with an impressive variety of sound and fury, but, taken as individual songs or as a cohesive album, Daisy wants for the type of overarching vision that would hold the drama together. That’s frustrating, but then again, this is the type of fierce and aching rock that sounds best when one is frustrated. So maybe that’s the point.