Over a year ago, fans of notoriously reclusive, reticent Long Island natives Brand New were treated to the band’s first new music in six years—a track called “Mene,” which was punishing and laden with biblical themes and lyricism.
Two days ago, the band announced the premiere of a new song, “I Am A Nightmare,” which was put up on Amazon as a 30-second preview, to be officially released on May 20th. Then, in a surprise move, the band dropped the full track on YouTube yesterday afternoon.
To be sure, fans and critics alike were taken aback, not only by the surprise release, but by the song itself—which, as a single, harkens back to the Brand New of old.
The song plays like a beautiful marriage between a track off the band’s first LP, Your Favorite Weapon, their second and most well known full-length, Deja Entendu, and their third album, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. It’s put-together, hooky, and catchy, all while conveying religious metaphor and conceit as clever lyricism.
The band’s sound has made stark and notable evolutions from album to album, but this song—blending the straightforward choruses of Your Favorite Weapon, the catchy but more forward sound of Deja Entendu, and some of the rougher sonic elements (and biblical motifs) of TDAGARIM—embodies new and old flavors, while still having that markedly “Brand New” sound.
To start, we’ve got 16th notes on the drums, leading into a relatively simple chord progression between the distorted bass and rhythm guitar—over which lead player Vin Accardi lays a very deliberate, unembellished riff, one we hear again and again between choruses and at the end of the song. Were it not produced by longtime Brand New collaborator, Long Island producer Mike Sapone, one might mistake this song—or at least its beginning and verses, sans Jesse Lacey’s vocals—for a Gaslight Anthem tune (credit to my girlfriend for pointing that out). It’s just so, well, put together.
After the straight-ahead intro, we’ve got Jesse Lacey, the band’s chief songwriter and lyricist, in his usual form, offering a conceit in biblical reference. First, he muses on alchemy—after which, he posits, as he does all over TDAGARIM and the band’s last LP, Daisy, rhetorical questions about the nature of the afterlife. He sings, “I want to find a way / I want to throw up snakes / Do I have to die to see the other side?” We don’t know, Jesse, but you’ve been asking this question in some form or another for quite a while, now.
Then, we’re hit with a catchy-as-all-hell chorus, during which the lyrics paint Lacey and a presumed significant other as diametric: “I am a nightmare, and you are a miracle.” That little vocal touch at the end? “Coming out of the ground / It’s kind of freaking me out”? That takes us right back to Your Favorite Weapon, as fans undoubtedly nod to themselves with the satisfaction of hearing an old sound reborn.
The second verse—instrumentally, same as the first—is a plea to the “you” in the song to not write the narrator off, to give him “pure energy.” “I surrender, embrace me / Whatever I’m faced with,” he begs.
As we arrive at the bridge, we’re treated to a dance-oriented sort of beat from the drums: 16th notes on the high-hat, a strong backbeat. At the end of the bridge, Lacey tells the subject of the song to “go save someone else” after painting her as “a pale vision of blue” and himself as “a second sail, a saved thief.” But before that, he sings “I fall asleep holding your hand.” Lyrically, though full of mixed metaphors and rhetorical religious questions, it seems “I Am A Nightmare” is about holding onto a significant other—which means, thematically speaking, you’re hearing the old Brand New talking.
The song itself is alt-rock gold: very concise and formulaic: intro-verse-chorus-intro-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-intro. It’s radio-ready. Lyrically, it lacks the caprice and youthfulness of Your Favorite Weapon and Deja Entendu, and sonically, we’re deprived of the experimental (though often staccato, punctuated, and even doubled) drumming and pedal-board-crazy guitar effects that mark The Devil and God and Daisy. But it’s still Brand New in their purest form, seemingly—for the first time in a very, very long time—giving fans exactly what they want, especially as the band prepares to release what everyone assumes will be their final record.
Curious about Brand New’s brand new musical direction? Wondering whether this album will truly be their last? Catch them when they hit Madison Square Garden with Modest Mouse on July 14th.