For Jesse Lacey, it was The Beach Boys, Morrissey and Neutral Milk Hotel who gave form to the emo influences that eventually formed the body of Brand New’s catalog. Even the raw and youthful Your Favorite Weapon has something to hold its own when compared to the all-time emo greats Deja Entendu and The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. While Brand New’s debut isn’t revered in the same manner as its successors, it is the dramatic growth showcased in the former that brought the band a newfound reverence, leading to the more nuanced and dynamic follow-up to garner similar praise and acclaim, even ten years later.
It’s only fitting that Brand New released a new song the week before the third The Hotelier record came out. The Worcester, MA band has been through a good deal leading up to this point. Their debut record, It Never Goes Out, presented listeners with a young, meek, but somewhat refined emo/pop punk band that wouldn’t have stood out on their own. Between that record and the next came label drama, a new name, and ultimately, unprecedented growth, as Home, Like Noplace Is There has gone from a surprise hit to a modern classic. Goodness arguably gave the band its most refined opportunity to prove themselves to a strong and committed following, without the baggage of their previous records, just with high expectations.
Part of what makes Home the record it is comes from its intense emotion that rises and falls in a concise way. Goodness has a similar sense of emotional movement, but it covers a different set of grounds. “Life In Drag” does not have any sort of companion here, as the record orients itself in a different direction. Opening up with a spoken word poem that opens listeners up to various images that recur throughout the record, it takes a little bit of time into “Goodness Pt. 2” before we find anything more than just a driving drum beat.
Goodness shifts away from intense instrumental stylings in favor of poetically driven lyricism. It succeeds in how its emotional movement occurs in such a nuanced way, capturing a rise and fall between sound and feeling, and the gradual shifts in each. Not only are these transitions and movements calculated and tracked, but they are executed with a greater alignment towards exploring softer dynamics when compared to Home. The band finds itself taking bolder risks with the foundations it lays out. The almost seven-minute “Sun” experiments with longer instrumental takes that contrast between quiet and loud. Even so, the band capitalizes on its ability to write emo powerhouses like “Two Deliverances”, which feels as big and profound as “Housebroken” did on its first listen, but rather than a centerpiece, it serves as a base upon which the record only grows.
When compared to the fast pace of the second record, Goodness feels like a much bigger pill to swallow, and it really is. The band digs at all angles in making this a release in need of studying rather than consuming. Christian Holden manages to weave his way through storytelling, establishing imagery and playing off of the band in a way that pushes and pulls the songs in a new way. On “Soft Animal”, he addresses a fawn of a “soft face”, as he finds himself on the “first spring sunrise/standing low of quivering stilts/in attempting to keep you to stay” amidst “a rolling fog that lets you hide”. In his address of this particular “you”, a perspective he speaks to time and time again throughout the record, the fawn takes full shape in a setting marked by Holden as much as the fawn itself.
He takes his time in pushing and pulling between sharp emotion and intricate storytelling. “Settle the Scar” shows shades of Holden’s refined writing, addressing an omniscient “you” in a distinct way that matches his cracking yells of “you’ve taken pages from a book/you couldn’t see your face in/claimed the author was a crook/in need of illustration”, examples of skillful contrasts that are quite poetic in scope. He presents himself with such delicacy, that it hits well when it does. Leading into the closing “End of Reel”, “Fear of Good” plays out like a poem all its own, displaying a vulnerability when Holden sings “And I’m freezing” against a wearying guitar.
It’s hard to tell whether or not Christian Holden looks to Neutral Milk Hotel or Morrissey like Jesse Lacey does. Either way, Goodness feels like The Hotelier making something big out of something that doesn’t have to be as big as it is. The band challenges what they needed to do as the next great emo band, and actually manages to make it so much more. Holden turns poems into tender passion only manages to take the music so much further than it has gone before. Ambition translates into something that shows listeners just how good this band is. While we still await the follow-up to Daisy, perhaps Goodness has the ability to turn The Hotelier into the band that we can’t stop thinking about, because it is a record that will stick with listeners for a very long time.
Emo/Punk | Tiny Engines Records