The First Song for Your Mix Tape: Thoughts on Brand New.

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The first song I heard by Brand New was “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows.” I was in high school, listening religiously to Freed Hardeman University’s radio station. At the time the station was known as 91.5, and it offered the only place on the local airwaves to hear quality alternative and indie music. As 91.5 was run by college students, there wasn’t always a DJ telling you what you were listening to- these kids had class to attend. The most reliable DJ, Titus, had a short but poignant run as the purveyor of knowledge to my music-obsessed soul. Without knowing it, he was the Qui-Gon to my Obi-Wan, the mentor of music handing down to me the songs that would shape the rest of my life. But even Titus had to graduate sometime (as far as I know, he did not perish in a lightsaber battle with a soft-spoken tatted-up Sith lord, so the Qui-Gon comparison ends here). Without a voice to say who was playing, I didn’t know that the “blood in your head” song was sung by Brand New during that DJ-less segment one night. Not until much later.

Brand New didn’t return to my radar until several months ago, when they toured with Modest Mouse in the summer heat. Several of my friends talked eagerly about seeing their show in Nashville, including the cute boy that always seemed to linger when I made his drink at Starbucks. When prompted, I would admit that I’d heard of Brand New but wasn’t very familiar with them. In an attempt to see what all the fuss was about, I took to scouring the internet for their music. I ended up listening to their entire discography…brought on, in part, by the cute boy-now turned my boyfriend- and his passionate interest in Brand New. But it was also brought on by my obsessive search for the best music around, okay? Y’all know me.

My search resulted in a pleasant surprise- it turned out I already knew many of their songs: “Sowing Season,” “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad,” and “Sic Transit Gloria…Glory Fades,” just to name a few. Thanks to my early exposure to good music on 91.5, I wasn’t as behind as I thought I was. Plus, many of the songs had very Smiths-esque titles, like “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot,” and heaven knows I’m a sucker for The Smiths and anyone influenced by them.  Still, it wasn’t until I heard “Mix Tape,” off of their album Your Favorite Weapon, that Brand New clicked with me.

 

Lyrics: 

I got a twenty-dollar bill that says no one’s ever seen you without makeup.
You’re always made up.
And I’m sick of your tattoos,
and the way you always criticize the Smiths… and Morrissey.
And I know that you’re a sucker for anything acoustic.
But when I say let’s keep in touch,
I really mean I wish that you’d grow up.
This is the first song for your mixtape.
It’s short just like your temper,
but somewhat golden like the afternoons we used to spend before you got too cool…

I got a twenty-dollar bill that says no one’s ever seen you without makeup.
You’re always made up.
And I’m sick of your tattoos, and the way you don’t appreciate Brand New or me
And I know that you’re a sucker for anything acoustic.
But when I say let’s keep in touch,
I hope you know I mean I wish that you’d grow up.
This is the first song for your mixtape.
It’s short just like your temper,
but somewhat golden like the afternoons we used to spend before you got too cool…

(yeah, but I wish you were my shadow.)

“Mix Tape” could have been a Dashboard Confessional song. In fact, if you just read the lyrics without listening to the music, you can hear Chris Carrabba singing in your mind.

Okay, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I just want to hear Chris…but I can’t get started on Chris Carrabba. That road only leads to tears and fangirling.

“Mix Tape” reads like a Dashboard Confessional song, but the lyrics also smack of The Smiths, in both obvious and more covert ways. For one thing, “Mix Tape” is often referred to as Brand New’s “Morrissey song” for the blatant references- “And I’m sick of your tattoos, and the way you always criticize The Smiths…and Morrissey.”

Who spends their time criticizing The Smiths and Morrissey?! (Don’t answer that- I know there are plenty of Moz haters out there, but I refuse to give them the time of day). I had never resonated so deeply with Jesse Lacey until hearing that lyric.

But then the next verse draws more parallels- “And I’m sick of your tattoos, and the way you don’t appreciate Brand New…or me.” Because The Smiths are to Morrissey as Brand New is to Jesse Lacey. Further, the self-referential aspect also pays tribute to Morrissey, as he regularly references himself in his songs. It was comforting to hear so many familiar and well-loved techniques in a Brand New song.

The whole concept of mix tapes has always been one I’ve embraced. If I’ve given you a mix tape at any point in my life, please know that I slaved over every song and every track change on that CD. And that I cared about you, because I don’t make those for just anyone. For some people, music expresses that which we can’t express- whether it’s feelings, reflections, memories, or just existential-unnameable dread. If Brand New can relay that special expression through a song, all the while throwing shade on someone who used makeup to hide instead of shine, someone who criticized those who bared their feelings like a proud banner striking the sky- well, then I’m all for them.

 

I’m seeing Brand New with their biggest fan on Monday, and I can’t wait.

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