Review Summary: Never be heaven without you...
How do you qualify a band such as Brand New? As I sit here writing what must be my tenth version of this review, I find myself reflecting just as much upon their entire discography as I do their insanely hyped final album. After all, so much of what makes Science Fiction
a resounding success can be credited to the band’s storied and diverse roots, which can be heard and recognized with ease throughout the entire experience. There are traces of Deja Entendu
’s hook-endowed melodies for sure, as the witty, pop-rock aesthetic of ‘Can’t Get It Out’ can attest to. The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
’s dark, riff-bolstered ruminations wreak havoc across ‘137’ and ‘Out of Mana.’ Daisy
’s coarse experimentalism is represented in the wiry, unpredictable approach of just about every interlude and outro. The assembly of these tremendous assets into one bona fide farewell is a goddamn emotional wrecking ball; a tidal wave too great for any longtime fan to overcome. Thus, I imagine that my approach to this review must possess semblances of Brand New’s own struggles when it came to writing Science Fiction
: doubled-down pressure to fashion a high-quality product and this genuine sense of duty to be summative, perfect, and wholly representative of the band’s legacy. Brand New thankfully (and predictably) outperformed me on all fronts with Science Fiction
– an album eight years in the making that somehow obliterates already unreasonably high expectations while forming one of the best and most anticipated curtain-calls in recent memory.
The fact that this is very likely the band’s final record weighs heavily on each aspect of Science Fiction
’s existence. For the first time, Brand New chose to create something emblematic of their entire career rather than partaking in another stylistic revolution, collecting fractional glimpses of their past and weaving them together. The lyrics pay homage to moments from just about every single preceding album, with key references to ‘Luca’ (“At the bottom of the ocean fish won't judge you by your faults”
), ‘At The Bottom’ (“How did you get the gold without digging any holes?”
), the Daisy
title track (another eerie nod to the 1835 Charlotte Elliott hymn, Just As I Am
), and even the title of their magnum opus ("I don't mind having all this going on inside of me... I think I'm going to be relieved when it's over”
). While those represent but a few of the hidden gems on Science Fiction
, they are illustrative of Jesse Lacey’s mindset while approaching the record. It’s very clearly a means to an end; a tribute that looks back, exhales, and then drops the mic. There’s so much going within the confines of Science Fiction
that requires pre-existing knowledge and perspective , which I’d peg as the album’s primary flaw if it didn’t pay such huge dividends for their thousands of diehard followers.
Do you remember a few years back when Lacey said something about “being done” writing depressing material? Well naturally, Science Fiction
is their bleakest album to date. The Devil and God
was sadder, Daisy
was angrier, but this is just downright creepy stuff. There’s a loosely tied theme running throughout the record’s background about a mental patient who endured four hundred hours of intensive therapy, and on the opening track Lacey sings about burning from the inside out “like a witch in a Puritan town.”
If that doesn’t raise a few hairs, then the spine-chilling laughter that closes out ‘No Control’ – or perhaps the unnerving, repeated “seven years”
on ‘In The Water’ – ought to rectify that. The overall tone is actually very much in line with where Brand New left off on Daisy
; you know – burning forests, voices calling from under the Earth, hell fire and the like. The only difference is that they seem to be in the acceptance stage now, embracing their darkness like we’ve never seen before. In a battle originating eleven years ago, I’d surmise that the Devil has finally won.
There’s more to all of this than just sinister undertones and fan service, though. While the narrative is centered around this woman patient, there are clear parallels to both Lacey/Brand New and society as a whole. The “four hundred hours of intensive individual therapy” line that introduces ‘Lit Me Up’ (and the album as a whole) could easily be a direct metaphor for the amount of time it took the band to write, record, and produce Science Fiction
. It certainly couldn’t have been an easy process for it to have taken eight years, and the emotional toll that comes with wrapping up their careers together may have been, to them, akin to therapy. This kind of speculation is further fueled by Lacey’s verse only a few stanzas down, when he laments “I want to put my hands to work until the work's done…I want to open up my heart like the ocean.”
‘Waste’ again hearkens to this central motif, with the lines “If it's breaking your heart, if nothing is fun…Don't lose hope, my son, this is the last one”
and “ It's going to feel so good to let it go…It's all in your head, your race is run.”
Allusions to Brand New’s demise aren’t necessarily unexpected, but the way that they are sewn into the record’s fabric while remaining consistent with decades-old symbolism in nothing short of breathtaking. With a perfectionist like Lacey at the helm, don’t think for a second that any of this isn’t deliberate, either. Brand New clearly took lengthy and painstaking measures to ensure that Science Fiction
was the ultimate summative experience, and a befitting end for both their fans and themselves alike.
For a traditionally introspective band, Science Fiction
broadens their thematic horizons perhaps more than any preceding release. When you consider the tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation of Deja Entendu
, the torrent of religious and existential crises present on The Devil and God
, or the unhinged emotional exhaustion of Daisy
, there are topics here that reside well outside of the normal range. That isn’t to say that any of the aforementioned subjects don’t bear universal implications, but moments of Science Fiction
feel very real and rooted in the present. The most obvious instance is ‘137’ – a song aptly named after the radioactive isotope Caesium-137, a component of nuclear fission that was never detected in Earth’s atmosphere until after the detonation of the first nuclear bombs during World War II. The song feels frighteningly relevant: “Let's all go play Nagasaki, we can all get vaporized”
. Here, Lacey seems to be lamenting the carelessness with which we boast and threaten nuclear warfare, an event that could effectively end humanity in one fell swoop (“Let's all go and meet our maker, they don't care whose side you're on / Let's all go play Nagasaki, what a lovely way to die / the final show where we all go, so no one has to say goodbye”
). The entire song builds to this epic, distorted riff that feels like a dreadful culmination of the previous taunts. The most comparable moment within Brand New’s catalog is ‘Limousine’, considering the gradual build to the prolonged guitar solo, but I’d liken it even more so to mewithoutYou’s ‘Rainbow Signs’ – a 2015 account of a nuclear apocalypse with similarly foreboding messages and religious undercurrents.
Like ‘137’, the late-album find ‘Desert’ sounds strikingly relevant from the perspective of a conservative, God-fearing man watching what he deems to be society falling apart around him. With high-pitched vocal callbacks and an insanely infectious chorus, Lacey prophesizes Biblical revelations (“ If I believe only half what I read, I got a reason to be dug in deep”
), condemns homosexuality (“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”
), and clings to his guns (“Last night I heard a voice that said, ‘Don't give up your gun’ / Those bleeding hearts come marching down my road, well I'll be waiting right here at my door…If you're joining them then I got one with your name on it”
). It’s pretty apparent that the views are intentionally told from the perspective of someone who misunderstands Christian values though, and that Lacey is intentionally being ironic in the same way as when he sung “You’re beating with a book everyone that book tells you to love”
on ‘Archers.’ The intertwined hot-button topics of today’s political climate feel right at home on a record where Brand New seems to be tying it all together – from their own emotional turmoil to the issues we all face for the conceivable future.
Even while diving deep into Science Fiction
’s intricacies, it is impossible to touch on every quality that makes it yet another classic Brand New canon-entry. In fact, two of the absolute best songs in ‘Same Logic/Teeth’ and ‘451’ have yet to even surface in discussion, which is a testament to the record’s endowment of both quality music and lyrical complexity. The former represents the most balanced track, alternating between granular screams and gorgeous vocal harmonies, all atop acoustic picking that refuses to fade even during the track’s most intense, fiery verses. The latter, ‘451’, feels like the best song that they accidentally left off of Daisy
. It’s replete with twangy electric guitars and a shout-along chorus that is impossible to forget within the same twenty-four hours it’s heard: “ Last thread, dancing dead, one more time with feeling!”
For a less intense but equally gratifying fix, ‘Can’t Get It Out’ serves as the lost Deja
megahit, bursting forth with an earnest, pitiful plea of “ I'm just a manic depressive, toting around my own crown / I've got a positive message, sometimes I can't get it out.”
Maybe that’s why we never got that promised “positive Brand New record” that Lacey was going on about. The mid-album gem ‘In The Water’ may be a top five track for the band, combining intricate and majestic guitar work with sprawlingly beautiful vocals and the most interesting yet unsettling outro they’ve ever written. All in all, Science Fiction
is an embarrassment of riches boasting one spectacular verse or chorus followed by another all-too-fitting electric riff or philosophical gold nugget. Basically, it’s a Brand New album as they’ve come to be defined.
It will take both time and additional perspective to determine exactly where Science Fiction
figures into the band’s crowded list of achievements. The most surprising thing about the album, however, is that it does
– effortlessly. Entering 2017, we basically had an emotionally exhausted band that had already witnessed its peak, burnt down a metaphorical forest, and accumulated a rabid cult-following starving for closure. It’s not exactly a recipe for a storybook ending, as living up to such expectations would require a precise blend of innovation and fan service that so very few artists can ever achieve. Regardless of the odds, Science Fiction
is a bold, legend-making statement well worth the eight year wait. If it ends up being their swan song, then we can rest assured that Brand New is going out on their own terms: in peak form, bearing no regrets. It’s a sentiment visited one last time, and most eloquently expressed, on the album’s stunning eight-minute adieu when Lacey sings “Give me your best shot. Batter up.”