Review: Brand New – ‘Science Fiction’

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On August 15th, the always mysterious Brand New, suddenly and unexpectedly posted preorders for their 5th album, which they have long hinted would be their last. The preorders indicated the album would ship in October, but just 2 days later, some of those who had preordered the limited copies received CDs containing the entire 61 minutes of the album as a single track. Later that day, anyone who had preordered was able to download the album, and within the week, the record was available on streaming services. Brand New had finally released their new album, their first in 8 years. These rapid developments have left their fanatical fanbase reeling. Could Science Fiction possibly live up to the fans unreasonable expectations?

Somehow Brand New was able to meet and exceed this challenge, delivering an album which not only deserves its place within their impeccable discography, but could also easily make a claim to being their best work to date. With the shine of this surprising release in our eyes, not to mention a lifetime of Brand New fandom, it is nearly impossible to provide an unbiased perspective on the new LP. Further adding to the difficulty is the immense depth that exists within all of Brand New’s music and especially this album. Lyrical themes, references within the lyrics, and instrumental high points will continue to be discovered and dissected within these tracks for years to come. The real test will be whether we are all still listening to Science Fiction in 5, 10, or 20 years. Yet I will do my best after some 25 listens to the album to provide the best review I can. It deserves it.

Sonically, this is in many ways this album is exactly what we all should have expected (if not hoped for) from Brand New’s new material. Science Fiction builds upon the foundation of their last two LPs, the lyrical and introspective The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me and the haunting and erratic Daisy. The heavy use of creepy and distorted samples between and within tracks has returned from Daisy, and Jesse Lacey’s ability to write poetic and thoughtful lyrics has only grown since The Devil and God. Even a few of the screaming explosions more common on early Brand New material make their way onto the album. Adding to this foundation are influences from Modest Mouse, Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, and even drummer Brian Lane’s side project, Shone.

Brand New were able to blend these influences into a record that is not only a chilling and immersive listening experience, but also a kickass rock record that isn’t afraid to take risks. Tracks appear and disappear with false endings and distorted samples. Guitar solos, easily some of the best of their career, wind through tracks only to fade into static and upheaval. This is truly a record keeps you on your toes. Guitarist, Vincent Accardi, and Brand New’s longtime producer, Mike Sapone, should be applauded for their efforts in what is clearly one of the band’s strongest outputs instrumentally. However, as with all Brand New albums, the real star are the lyrics and the intense themes the record delves into.

Science Fiction has the introspective, tortured, and emotional outlook that listeners have come to expect from Brand New, but in many ways this album is unique among their work. This is an album that is perfectly suited for the dreary, violent, and hopeless world of 2017. The record’s dueling themes are an intense desire to work to fix one’s self and humanity, and a fatalistic hopelessness that all these efforts are for naught due to the chaotic evil of the world we live in. Therapy and the idea of being “cured” are frequently recurring topics, but each track settles into tempting conclusion that we’d all probably be better off dead.

Each song approaches this contrast from a slightly different viewpoint. Some tracks are written from the perspective of specific characters like the bitter conservative and homophobic father from “Arizona”, while others seem to be written from the perspective of Jesse Lacey himself, especially “Can’t Get It Out” which lays out the anxious concerns of a depressed and exhausted, if not unwilling, rock star, who “strumming with a heavy wrist” feels as if he is a failure and a fraud despite the fans’ adoration, and tires for it all to end. “I thought I was a creator / I’m here just hanging around. / Got my messiah impression / I think I got it nailed down.”

Throughout the tracks, and no matter the perspective, these themes remain. Things are bad, what we’re trying isn’t working, and I just want it all to end. As the woman says in the opening sample which sounds as if its from a haunted therapy session, “I think I’m going to be relieved when it’s over.” This fatalism is most apparent on the tracks “Same Logic/Teeth” and “137”.

On the winding “Same Logic/Teeth” the troubled singer, battles his depressive and self-destructive tendencies. “Your friends are all imaginary, your shrink stopped answering her phone. / So you decide to make incisions at your home while you’re alone, all alone.” He experiences frustration in his attempts to improve, “You cracked your head, and broke some bones / And when you glued them back together you found out you did it wrong”, and only finds solace in the fact that no one is going to care when we’re dead. “Well I guess nothing can be perfect, so here’s a comforting thought / At the bottom of the ocean fish won’t judge you by your faults.”

The following track, “137”, somehow takes the darkness up a notch. It reads as a conversation between the singer and God, questioning whether the creation of the atom was an inside joke because the human race will inevitably use it to eradicate themselves. The singer eventually comes to the revelation that we’d be better off if we just got it over with. “Let’s all go play Nagasaki. / We can all get vaporized. / Hold my hand, let’s turn to ash. / I’ll see you on the other side. / Let’s all go and meet our maker / They don’t care whose side you’re on. / We’re so afraid, I prayed and prayed / before I learned to love the bomb.” Between verses, over the sounds of choppers, a soldier’s voice is heard “If there wasn’t a war going on, this place would be pretty nice.” The track perfectly conveys the feeling of a frustrated and war-sick world of 2017. This is an unwilling surrender to the worst impulses of the human race, in vein of classic anti-war films Dr. Strangelove and Paths of Glory. Humanity is too sick to survive, we are doomed, and there’s no point in fighting it.

Each track screams in defeat at the hands of random chaos of an unfair world. On the aptly named “No Control” the singer remarks, “Some get sick, Some don’t get cured, That’s how it goes.” On “Out of Mana” the singer wonders in this increasingly digitized and commodified society if he is any more than a character in a video game completing quests. As he realizes he will die, he wonders aloud if any of this even meant anything. “I can’t say I know that I’m even here / or is this some eternal test? / Hold me close. / I’ll never know if it’s more or less. No reset.”

These haunting thoughts stick with the listener long after the record has ended. You can agree with the fatalistic perspective or not, but who among us, despite our best efforts, hasn’t felt completely at a loss to combat this bitter and unfair world in 2017? Is this the end, this record wonders, and if so will we even miss it? This is essence of Science Fiction, and it presents this message with an intelligence and tact that make it hard to easily dismiss. With this record, Brand New have once again pushed music to its highest form as an art. If this is the end for them, then they’ve never missed, and you can’t hope for better than that.

Don’t lose hope my son, this is the last one.”

9.0 / 10.0



– Henderson Cole