Jesus Christ, it’s here.
Being a fan of Brand New- the legendary Long Island rock/emo/punk band behind every song that spoke to your angsty, adolescent fourteen-year-old soul- can sometimes feel like being caught inside some weird inside joke you never asked to be part of. It’s been a seven-year wait since the release of Daisy, the band’s most experimental and divisive to date, and rumours of the band’s eventual break-up have been floating around the Internet ever since. Between repeatedly announcing there was new music coming and repeatedly announcing there actually wasn’t, Brand New have thrown fans for a loop with freaky website updates, concert visuals advertising their own alleged 2018 demise, cryptic Instagram captions and merchandise campaigns that never ended up being associated with any album or single.
Waiting for Brand New’s fifth album has certainly been a long and bumpy ride, but, after a promotional cycle that somehow managed to last both 48 hours and four years, it’s finally here and available for download, streaming and physical sales.
The album is called Science Fiction, a title that we should have seen coming with their uber-cryptic, sci-fi themed buzz campaign. The album is more distinct in concept than the band’s previous works as well- while all their previous albums have overarching themes and sounds, the glue that holds Science Fiction together is, well, science fiction. In the course of an hour, stories about religion, recovery and redemption are told through narratives and references featuring nuclear warfare, alien invasions and, apparently, World of Warcraft. The band has always had a cult following, and this time around they seem to be embracing the almost mythological impression they’ve left on fans with this latest record.
My original plan was to a track-by-track review, but that just doesn’t feel like the right way to discuss a Brand New album, considering one of the band’s strongest qualities is versatility. In A Jar is nothing like Sink. Not the Sun is nothing like Luca. Play Crack the Sky and Guernica are nothing alike, either. Brand New’s album are still designed to be listened to in one sitting, in linear, non-shuffled order, and that’s the only effective way to truly talk about their music as well.
So let’s start with the PR. For an indie band whose members are quickly approaching their forties (sorry guys, but it’s true), Brand New has a marketing strategy that mainstream pop stars should be envious of. Over the past few years, the band has kept a low profile, rarely doing interviews or releasing one-off singles- but when they did interact with fans or the media, they went big. They fulfilled a decade-old promise to dutiful fans, launched a very upsetting campaign predicting their own future break-up, and, recently, sent fans CDs with GPS coordinates to a building in Wyoming where they filmed Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Overall, there’s something almost mystical about the band’s rare public appearances- and proof that they’re cult-classic icons now and forever, regardless of how long the band remains intact.
Musically, it’s a slow burner that somehow sounds very different and completely identical to their past work. Plenty of tracks- such as "No Control" and "In The Water" - sound liked someone fused the vocals of one album with the instrumentals of another and the lyrics of another. More than any other album, there are sonic and lyrical callbacks to previous works, and ultimately that adds a sense of authenticity and finality to this album. It feels like they’re acknowledging their discography and careers as a years-long narrative that’s slowly wrapping up. It feels like something brand new (pun, of course, completely intended) while also feeling like a scrapbook of their career, a musical trip down memory lane. The album sort of seems like it was made by a recent band that grew up listening to Brand New, to be honest.
Of course, no Brand New album would be complete without the central theme of God, Christianity and struggling with faith and redemption (which makes sense, considering lead singer Jesse Lacey was raised in a Christian household). With track names taken from Biblical passages, an endless stream of allusions and one of the their biggest hits being named after J.C. himself, the Christian faith is classic Brand New territory, and it just wouldn’t feel the same without it. This time around, the theme is meshed in with science, exploring both the creation and end of the world, the personal conflict of faith and fact, and the scary, supernatural elements of both science fiction and religion.
“God is dead/well said/get out of my head,” Lacey sings on Could Never Be Heaven, while closing track "Batter Up" discusses seeing the supernatural in the night sky and accepting it’s “never gonna stop”. It feels very much as though the band has come to terms with the fact that some things are gonna haunt you your entire life. It’s no longer a puzzle to figure out or an obstacle to overcome, as the themes of religion and supernatural, love and death have been in the past for the band- instead these themes and thoughts are held onto like a comfort blanket, something permanent and familiar.
After years of keeping their fans at arm’s length, it feels like we’re more involved in the album than ever before. Songs about mental illness and recovery are no longer shrouded in metaphor, and the band is discusses the seven year gap in music and the pressures and circumstances around creating this possibly final body of work. Hey, some of the songs are even about us.
"In The Water" seems to be exploring Brand New’s relationship with fans. The track has a kind of folky, country-rock vibe that has echoes of Daisy - literally, considering the track has the same sample of the album’s title track, along with a self-aware loop of “seven years”. Other lines include, “I don’t want it enough/I can’t fake it enough” and “never had the chance to break apart hard”, possibly referencing the band’s struggle to produce new music and the pressure that comes with being in the public eye on any level.
"Same Logic/Teeth" is another undeniable standout, and I’m going to argue it’s up there with "Guernica," "Jesus Christ" and "Sowing Season" in terms of honesty and vulnerability. Lacey sings about wanting to try on new skin, to be someone else, to start again fresh, only to end up hurting yourself, and hating yourself, even more than before. It’s weird and gross and painful and the truth, one of the more raw reflections on mental illness that’s out there. The final verse is so classic Brand New: "Boy we gave you every opportunity/Boy, we gave our hands to get you of your knees/ Boy, sat at our table and ate everything/ Then said you were still hungry/so you bite the plates and break your teeth."
It’s an unpleasant but very authentic perspective on helping those you love through hard times - and if this truly is their last album I will forever miss Lacey’s uncanny ability to find the weirdest metaphor out there and then make it work.
"Waste" is another album highlight- an honest, heartbreaking look at addiction and survival, with some of the best lyrics in Brand New’s entire catalogue. "137" is a wonderful, atmospheric track about nuclear apocalypse with the killer line, “Let’s all go play Nagasaki, we can all get vaporized”. "No Control" and "Can’t Get It Out" are the album’s “fun” tracks and most likely to be singles, with the former clearly inspired by Nirvana and the latter being surprisingly upbeat and poppy.
"451" is one of the few tracks for listeners who came out in hopes of hearing something in the same vein as The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me and are seriously missing the lack of electric guitars on this record. The album’s closer, "Batter Up" is strange and gorgeous, and while some might grow impatient by it’s eight minute length and sparse lyrics, for me the track feels like a stellar closer. It doesn’t really feel like an ending, but the band’s closing tracks rarely do. "Handcuffs" and "Noro" offer no closure or sense of finality to their respective albums, and "Soco Armaretto Lime" and "Play Crack the Sky," while both incredibly strong songs, are far from climatic.
If anything, Brand New’s album closers hint towards the sound of future albums - Soco hinted towards the lyrical maturity of Deja Entendu, "Play Crack" predicted the overwhelming darkness TDAGARIM, "Handcuffs" featured weird drowning baby lyrics that would feel more appropriate on Daisy, and themes of burning forests and light through the trees is a perfect match for Science Fiction.
So what does "Batter Up" predict? Quite possibly nothing - this may very well be the band’s last record, "Batter Up" may be their last track. If so, Brand New doesn’t end in a new direction or with a climatic banger- it just ends us with the final thoughts that it, whatever it is won’t stop, so we need to batter up and be ready. It feels like, after a five album journey to overcome or erase whatever’s been plaguing Lacey and co, they’ve come to the conclusion that this journey itself isn’t coming to an end - it’ll go on and on until we disappear. In that sense, if this is the end, it’s a perfect one, or at least, a perfectly Brand New one.
There’s something for any rock fan on this record, but overall, this is an album created for the kind of listeners who aren’t too impatient to spend an hour listening to a record from start to finish, the kind of listener who will still be ruminating over a song’s lyrics two tracks later. Science Fiction is simpler in terms of melody and instrumentation than other Brand New albums, and the lyrics are intense and spread evenly so there’ll be a line that feels like a punch in the gut at least once per verse. It’s an album that’s meant to stick with you long after the record ends, and for any Brand New fan, that’s exactly what we needed after seven long years.
About the Author:
Megan Hunt is a writer, editor and undergrad student currently living in Montreal. She's currently a staff writer and editor for Affinity Magazine, and a web editor at Soliloquies Anthology. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MegzThatzMe for more unsolicited, probably unwanted, music opinions.