by Preston Radtke and Ryan Fine
The release of Brand New’s most recent album was a bittersweet moment. Seemingly out of the blue, the band decided to drop their much anticipated fifth LP last week with very little press. Bitterness came in the form of the band making no bones over the fact that Science Fiction will in fact be the final act for the emo-punk luminaries. However, to make up for that bitterness, the album itself contains enough sweetness to keep dentistry alive and well for centuries to come, until presumably earthlings will have biogenetically programmed teeth that need no cleansing.
Brand New have always moved the emo needle. They were a band that lassoed in angsty high school alternatives with “The Quiet Things that No One Ever Knows”, exposed them to darker, more introspective works like Daisy, and spat them out as multi-faceted listeners ready to take on acts such as Sunny Day Real Estate, Wolf Parade and the eternal Radiohead. As expected, Science Fiction is different and progressive in morose and gloomy manners. Science Fiction definitely fits in with the rest the Brand New catalog, but its depth also goes head-to-head with some of the most complex indie-emo records of all time. Mental health, nuclear Armageddon and aging are all topics on which Jesse Lacey and friends pontificate on this new classic.
Lacey preaches patience
The eight years between this album and the band’s previous one, 2009’s underrated emotional powerhouse Daisy, were apparently full of thoughtful introspection for Jesse Lacey. One of the most obvious evolutions on Science Fiction comes through in its low-key progressions and stripped back sounds. Yes, there are acoustic ballads, but songs like “Lit Me Up” and “Waste” force listeners to hang on Lacey’s every injection.
Though standard Brand New inflections and choruses can be heard on this record, listeners should also look for the record’s unique beauty in its themes and its resilience. Sound-wise, Science Fiction isn’t a record that is immediate in its appeal. Many listens must be undertaken to uncover the album’s true color. Even “137”, which possibly features the most dramatic progression on the record, has a lot of hidden layers that reward listeners for giving it multiple listens and close attention.
Compared to many other bands that are heavily circulated in the indie universe, Brand New holds a special place in fans’ hearts not only for their quality, but for their longevity. Especially after their first album, the music of Brand New is impressive for just how powerful it remains even after a decade-and-a-half of listening to it. Returning to the limelight after so much time in the shadows, many of the band’s early fans are listening to completely different music than they were back then. The band has once again grown with their listeners, asking us to have the same patience when hearing their new music as we did when we were waiting for it.
A thematic whirlwind
Some of the standout albums from Brand New’s two-decade history, including The Devil and God are Raging Inside of Me and Deja Entendu, found the outfit pedaling in almost cliché emo topics, like heartache, going to college, and friend dynamics. Even some of the greatest anthems from their first two albums, like “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad” and “Sic Transit Gloria…Glory Fades” sometimes turn out to simply be clever takes on relatively adolescent topics under the surface.
This record, on the other hand, features the band dealing with heavier issues. The most consistent theme throughout the record is mental health, specifically self-harm, confidence, and forgiveness. Possibly the record’s supreme moment, “Same Logic/Teeth”, is a stirring, haunting chronicle of the effects of self-harm. The song is a slow-progression piece whereupon Lacey waxes poetic on the problems and relevance of self-harm, and how impactful self-harm can be to people’s loved ones.
“137” details a fictional apocalyptic scenario due to nuclear warfare. Cryptic lyrics allude to man’s impatience and brashness. “137” appears to be one of many warnings that Brand New issues on the record. The band even touches on fundamental Christianity on “Desert.” The track presents a harsh criticism of fundamentalists, juxtaposing real-world statements and actions with the Biblical scripture that Lacey does not think this ideology reaches the standards of.
Experience with a youthful twist
Brand New very easily could have sounded old, crusty and washed up with a new record in 2017. True, men in their forties with kids may not have the same pulse of the scene as they once did. Luckily, though, through expert writing, instrumental work, and artful vocalizations, the band comes across as experienced and advisory, rather than trapping themselves in their old sound, forever dooming them to finish their career as caricatures of themselves.
Fortunately, the brand new Brand New is mature, but not too mature. Songs like “Can’t Get It Out” and “Could Never Be Heaven” feature many early Brand New instrumental tropes and deep-rooted allusions to past band glory. Though there is a lot of wisdom shared on Science Fiction that the Brand New of 2001 may not have had, they still have enough faith in their early work to appease those of us who were just delving into the wide world of music when Deja Entendu was released.
An attempt to please the entirety of the diverse Brand New fanbase would have been futile, and it’s true that some Your Favorite Weapon listeners will find this far too self-indulgent to hold any merit for them. But instead of widening their scope too far, the band deliberately zoned in instead, spending several painstaking months in the studio and frequently going back to the drawing board. They even scrapped a few previously released singles to make sure that every part of their grand finale would be up to their standards, and they delivered in nearly every possible way. A treat for both old and new fans of the band, Science Fiction is well worth the many listens it may take to fully absorb its brilliance.
“Lit Me Up”
“Could Never Be Heaven”
Also in the Science Fiction family:
Taking Back Sunday – Where You Want To Be
American Football – American Football
Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary
Here's some advice: if you want to get your house party hoppin' with some angsty emo, don't put this record on. Its slow progressions and stripped back production don't lend themselves well to anyone who isn't fully invested in the music. Though the band has not gotten so caught up in their own maturity that 'Deja Entendu' diehards won't be able to appreciate this record, they have truly created one of the most intricately woven, conceptual emo records of all time. 'Science Fiction' deals with big themes like nuclear war and self-harm in incredibly nuanced ways, and for that reason, patience is highly suggested.
Preston is a Emerging Media and Design major. His favorite things include: Seinfeld, the band Sleater-Kinney, denim jackets, and traveling. When he is not writing for Byte, he’s working on his thesis dealing with transmedia in music marketing, working on his very amateur novel, and spending way too much money on restaurants.