Review: Brand New’s ‘Science Fiction’ exceeds its insane expectations
The promise of a new Brand New album seemed less and less real over the long eight years that passed since 2009’s Daisy. They kept teasing and delaying one, but were showing so many signs of a band nearing its end: playing classic albums in full on tour, releasing and reworking old demos, and only releasing under ten minutes of new music in those eight years. Not to mention one of their mysterious teasers actually seemed to threaten that they’d break up in 2018 (which is still possible). So it’s pretty crazy that Brand New not only finally released Science Fiction, the name of their new proper full-length, but that it’s really fucking good.
With the delays and teases that Brand New fans had to endure — especially when a fanbase is this rabid (like, say, Radiohead’s or Tool’s) — the anticipation for this album was through the roof. It’s nearly impossible for these long-awaited albums to live up to whatever crazy expectations fans set for them, which makes it even more remarkable that Science Fiction is an effortlessly enjoyable, intense listen. As you’d hope from a band who said the album couldn’t come out last year because they didn’t feel it was “complete enough, refined enough, or edited thoroughly enough to be something [they] would call finished or essential,” it sounds like they took a perfectionist approach this time around, like they did on the classic The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. Daisy sounded like it was banged out much quicker, which is part of its charm. It was referencing stuff like In Utero and The Jesus Lizard at a time when no one really was, especially not anyone on a major label. They sort of needed a raw album like that, to distance themselves from the pop punk reputation that their early singles left them with. However necessary Daisy might be though, it remains divisive among fans and it’s nice that Science Fiction sounds like the type of album that all Brand New fans can get behind.
It’s the perfect kind of album to be released into the world all at once with no pre-release singles, as it’s an album that’s best listened to start to finish. But if you’re looking for a could-be single, your best bet is probably “Can’t Get It Out.” It’s got verses with strummy acoustic guitar, a driving backbone, and just a hint of Pinkerton in the delivery, and it’s got the most classic-Brand New chorus on the album. After the third chorus, it kicks it up a gear into that level of catharsis that Brand New do so well, and Jesse Lacey hits you with one of his trademark gut-punchers: “I’m just a manic depressive, toting around my own crown / I’ve got a positive message, sometimes I can’t get it out.”
The moments like those are the moments that Brand New fans have come to love, and the most immediately satisfying thing about Science Fiction is that we finally have twelve more songs full of those moments. And while Science Fiction sounds like no other band in the world, it’s actually a very different album for Brand New. There are parts that echo Devil and God and Daisy, and just a few that echo Deja Entendu (nothing here really echoes Your Favorite Weapon), but it’s clearly a distinct chapter in the band’s career, as all four of their previous albums were. For one, Brand New have never prominently used this much acoustic guitar on an album before. And they aren’t using it in a “Soco Amaretto Lime”/“Play Crack the Sky” sort of way; the acoustic guitar on Science Fiction is earthier, almost bluesy. But it’s not a lighter record. It does have some of their quietest moments, but some of their heaviest too. And some of the most exciting parts are when they switch up the quiet and heavy moments in unexpected ways. On the early highlight “Same Logic/Teeth,” Jesse is belting out throat-shredding, Daisy-esque screams while that bluesy acoustic guitar keeps plucking along in the background, and out of nowhere they transition into this gorgeous clean part that almost reminds me of Sufjan Stevens. On “451” they manage to keep that earthy vibe intact while also crossing over into industrial territory for the first time in their career.
The closest they do come to a “Soco Amaretto Lime”/”Play Crack the Sky”-style heartfelt acoustic song is the folky “Could Never Be Heaven,” but this one is bolder and wiser than BN’s past songs of its kind. Jesse lets out two heartstring-tuggers in the choruses, the first time singing “Could never be heaven without you” and the second time applying the same melody to “And all of the songs were about you.” Those refrains offer up some nice tenderness on a song that often sounds confused and broken.
One lyrical theme that’s all over this album, and which has been a theme on Brand New songs for most of their career, is a complicated relationship with Christianity. One song that already has a lot of people talking is the bluesy “Desert.” In what seems like Jesse taking on a character (“a voice” or “revelation”), he sings: “I seen those boys kissing boys, with their mouth in the street / But I raised my son to be a righteous man, I made it clear to him what fear of God means.” It’s not the first time that a Brand New song caused you to grapple with a difficult character, and while it’s never easy to guess author’s intent with Jesse Lacey, this time it’s tempting to read the song as an empowering one.
“Desert” comes after another of the album’s bluesiest songs, “In the Water,” which works in harmonica and a big alt-rock-ballad chorus (are those mandolins in the background?), and ends with the same spoken word piece that appears on Daisy: “And we sing this morning that wonderful and grand ole message, and I don’t know about you but I never get tired of it.” Only this time, it goes into a creepily spoken “seven years,” which repeats like a skipping record. It’s not the only interlude of its kind on Science Fiction. The album also starts with a spoken word passage. The ’90s-ish, loud-quiet-loud rocker “Out of Mana” ends with a faraway-recorded mini Jesse solo song, and “No Control” — which starts out sounding like the band’s best Nevermind impression and goes into a classic Brand New chorus — ends with a faraway-recorded mini punk song that goes into a creepy David Lynchian passage.
One thing I can confidently say about Science Fiction already, is that it’s easily the best Brand New have ever ended an album. The end-with-a-sappy-acoustic-song formula of YFW and Deja works but gets slightly cheesy after a while, and “Handcuffs” and “Noro” are maybe the seventh-best songs on Devil and God and Daisy, respectively. But the eight-and-a-half minute “Batter Up”? What a way to end an album. It’s a slow-burning heartbreaker that’ll have you on the edge of your seat the whole time. It could be the album’s most intense song.
Science Fiction sounds like such a natural album for Brand New at this point in their career — if you’ve been following closely, you might’ve even predicted they’d release something like this. It’s also sort of the perfect Brand New album for someone who’s never really given the band a chance, especially if there’s a stigma surrounding them for you because they played Warped Tour 14 years ago or because Buzzfeed groups them with Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco. It easily ranks among their best material, and it’s completely void of any mall-punk signifiers. If Brand New do in fact break up in 2018, and this is the last we hear from them, it’s a hell of a way to say goodbye.
The album isn’t streaming anywhere (yet?) but you can pick it up on vinyl, CD or digital at the Procrastinate! Music Traitors webstore.
UPDATE: The album is now officially streaming. Listen below.