Review Summary: Yeah.
A few weeks ago, I received my GPA for this fall term and found out I got relatively underwhelming scores, although such head-shaking results are pretty much expected given that I performed poorly in the mid-term. After I saw that disappointing result right on my phone, I find myself living with a high level of anxiety and guilt in this semester break, imagining the worst result, blaming myself for not doing well in the mid-term, and struggling with exhaustion as a result of my final. In fact, it feels terrible for me since I received consistently strong performance in high school, and such comedown seems like the end of my life. Even at my most relaxed moments in this semester break, such as practicing guitar, watching my favorite sitcom The Golden Girls, browsing the internet, typing reviews, I would suddenly gasp rapidly when the result flashed back in my mind, or even getting into an argument with my parents with no reason. However, when I was browsing my Apple Music account, I rediscovered Brand New’s 2017 comeback album Science Fiction
, and, to be honest, the bleak sound and moody lyrics provided an emotional shelter, as it calmed myself down from the chaos. It has been a while since the release of this album and, of course, the news that abruptly ends the band’s career. A year and a quarter after this album’s release, this album is still as affecting and hauntingly beautiful upon its release.
Upon my first full rotation, it is clear that the 61-minute album is the most eclectic album Brand New ever created, as it seems they either collected the best sound of all their previous albums, dust them off and refined them at its best, or creating brand new (no pun intended) yet strangely familiar tunes. Whether the band was perfecting The Smiths-meet-The Cars sound of Your Favourite Weapon
in “Could Never Be Heaven”, “No Control” and “Desert”, re-polishing the ambitious alt-rock of Deja Entendu
in tracks such as “Waste” and “Batter Up”, or recreating stormy melodrama that recalls their dark magnum opus The Devil and God…
in songs such as “Out of Mana”, “Same Logic/Teeth”, or amped up their abrasiveness and experimental factor in the harshly mythical Daisy
with songs such as “451”, “Can’t Get It Out” and country-infused “In The Water”, the band crafted nostalgia-worthy tunes that would resonate many old fans, yet maintained the high quality to catch potential new fans’ ears. However, they also know how to make new sounds to keep many listeners surprised and excited, with fresh tunes such as the atmospheric, synth-tinged opener “Lit Me Up” and the Eastern-flavoured “137” are songs that are worthy to fit into the band’s already excellent catalog. If you think a seven-year limbo would lead to the band release a substandard effort, then Science Fiction
suggest otherwise, as it celebrates both their status as beloved Emo rockers, their various past achievements and their testament of time.
When I delved deeply into the lyrical content of the album, the fact was also crystallized that Brand New has also matured successfully like many of their contemporaries. Like I mentioned in the review for The Used
’s The Canyon
, the band also exhibited their growth as an artist as well. Unlike The Used or Jimmy Eat World
who embraced adulthood and maturity in The Canyon
and Integrity Blues
respectively like new pieces of armors, Brand New instead weaves them like blankets like Paramore
did in After Laughter
, except they did not color it with the glamorous technicolor like the latter. The crowning jewel that is “Same Logic/Teeth” is a dark, tortured tune that recalls the dreary The Devil and God...
, as the song blends the alienated sound of Modest Mouse
and the most melancholic moments of Built To Spill
. The lyric here is also at the moodiest in the album, with Lacey moaned about isolation(“Your friends are all imaginary, your shrink stopped answering her phone”), self-harming(“So you decide to make incisions at your home while you're alone, all alone”), living a fake life(“And you've got your kind of brand new face on, where all the skin's pulled thin and taut”), among many more dark issues that he might struggle and we could relate to; The acoustic guitar-driven, eight-minute heartbreakingly bittersweet closer “Batter Up” is Lacey’s reflection about his career in the band, as he hoped for a normal life(“In the valley of your slowly fading memory/Are there pastures bathed in some uncertain light where you won’t graze？”), while lamenting about his alienation(“Lose whoever you once were/Died and returned to the earth/Found ourselves back in love”). Besides of the two tracks, much of the album are vignettes of Lacey’s tumultuous mind and the tedious process of creating the album, from the desperation for salvation(“Lit Me Up”), boredom (“451”), overcoming difficulties (“Out of Mana”, “In The Water”) to mental illness(“Can’t Get It Out”) and moving forward from the troublesome past(“Waste”). After all, Lacey and co. all matured as adults who have learned and regretted from their mistakes, no longer the old teens who write about losing their virginity to an older woman in songs like "Sic Transit Gloria...Glory Fades", or try to sow everything back what they lost before like “Sowing Season (Yeah)”, or struggling their faiths that they have to put the prayer book on their face as they mentioned in “Bought a Bride”. In fact, they simply write down the mental anguish that they accumulated for the past seven years, or even in their lifetime, as their own science fiction.
Other than poignant personal diary-ready lyrics, the band also offered some stiletto-sharp, deadpan comedic commentary on hot button topics as well, further solidifying their maturity. “137” and “Desert” are poems that recall the excellent poetry in Deja Entendu
and The Devil and God…
respectively. The former of which is a grimly philosophical view on the current nuclear crisis, which is not surprising given that the title is named after a radioisotope, not to mention that one of the two Japanese cities that experienced nuclear bomb surfaced in the song (“Let's all go play Nagasaki/We can all get vaporized”), while Lacey confronting god whether he knows humans is capable of destroying the world before he created them (“Before the garden/When you were all alone/You made the atom/Was that some inside joke”), and fearing the end of the world caused by nuclear weapon (“Let's all go and meet our maker/Won't matter whose side you're on”);the folky latter of which is a eerie sequel of The Devil and God…
track “Archers”, as Lacey sang in a perspective of a fundamentalist Christian who misunderstood his religion’s true value, in which he sheds light of every signature of a staunch Christian conservative, from his excess fear of the apocalypse(“Last night I heard a voice that said, "This is the end”/All my nerves have been worn to the threads”) to homophobia(“I've seen those boys kissing boys with their mouths 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 the overt self-confirmation of his religious belief(“The path we walk is only narrow and straight/No son of mine will wander astray”). Given that under this Trump administration, the nuclear crisis between the US, South Korea, and North Korea had once reached to a breaking point, while the anti-transgender policy had ignited a very heated debate about LGBTQ+ rights, Science Fiction
also serves a portrait of the chaotic state of America.
Even though this album shined with brilliance in one track after another, there are slight inconsistencies that unfortunately tarnished the album. For instance, the use of numerous audio samples makes the band run out of ideas and tunes and use it to complete the songs in a hurry. Even there are cases that the audio tracks enhance the beauty of the album, including the opening audio samples about the mysterious psychotherapy in “Lit Me Up” sets the mystique tone of this album, the haunting laugh at the end of “No Control” leaves a memorable moment and the mysterious UFO audio sample in “Batter Up” adds layers of suspense to this album, the samples mostly sounded quite patchy here. Furthermore, this album also lacks a bit of the consistency as well; In fact, it’s their least consistent work in years since their debut full-length, with songs such as the acoustic “Could Never Be Heaven” and “No Control” sound relatively dull compared to other tracks. In fact, the former sounds like a cheesy love song that was left out from Your Favourite Weapon
, while the latter of which is a substandard tune with a lazy chorus. Still, the songwriting in these two weaker tracks is still quite strong and mature when compared to the patchy Your Favourite Weapon
, and that the audio sample flourishes the quietly chaotic and suspenseful nature of the album, leading to a result that does little harm to the album’s quality.
In short, it’s neither the whip-smart, poppy effort like Your Favourite Weapon
, the immaculately ambitious rock piece like Deja Entendu
, the dramatic, melancholic masterpiece like The Devil and God…
, nor the grungy mystique like Daisy
, but a nocturnal, mature album that also celebrated their legacy. Sure, there is the fact that it sounds more incomplete than their previous albums, evident in the overt use of the audio samples and the amount of weaker tracks. However, such incoherence forms what Science Fiction
should be, a musical equivalent to a science fiction classic: mysterious, atmospheric, suspenseful and ultimately rewarding. Brand New is dead, that is for sure(You know what I am talking about, I suppose), and we should get a tombstone, a grave, and a funeral to remember that. But does that mean we should forget the musical gift this Long Island band left for us, or worse, treat it like it didn't exist？Science Fiction
, in fact, is both a magnificent celebration of the band’s past in the 2000s and the glorious swan song that close out the band’s decade-long career that worth your hour-long listen. From the line “Don’t give up, my son, this is the last one” in the song “Waste”, it is clear that no matter their comeback was affected by any obstacles, this will nonetheless be their last album together. As a result, the chance of an LP6 is out of the question. Still, Science Fiction
is one triumphant curtain call that is greater than the sum of its parts, not even the flaws within it and the scandal can deter it from being an awe-striking album, and a definite essential of 2017.
Lit Me Up
Can’t Get It Out
Out of Mana