Well, I hope everyone enjoyed their first weekend with Science Fiction. After eight long years, Brand New did weird things last week and ended up releasing a new album in a very typical Brand New sorta way. The resulting product is a very, very good album, maybe the best of the band’s career, and certainly a front-runner for this year’s best rock album. The end.
Okay, it’s obviously not that simple, but seriously, what do you say? We’ve come to expect prolonged periods of silence coupled with flashes of ambiguous teasing from this band, but something about the events of last week felt truly exciting. With essentially no media coverage, no press push, and no rollout of any kind, Brand New stirred things into a frenzy and dominated the week in music discussion. The fact that Science Fiction is so damn good makes the whole thing that much more impressive.
You’ve likely already made up your mind about the album, ranked it somewhere above Daisy, and have begun the years-long process of unpacking Jesse Lacey’s lyrics. But since you’re here, let’s hit a few talking points.
First, what a relief that Brand New didn’t totally pull at the thread of 2015 singles “Mene” or “I Am a Nightmare”. In keeping with their track record, Science Fiction is very much another exploration for the band that carries a ghost of familiarity while becoming a completely new animal. At times, it sounds like something that would have been one of the most progressive rock albums of the early 90s.
To listen to the guitars on “137” or “No Control” is to hear a band that must have been inspired by In Utero-era Nirvana. Even so, tracks like “Can’t Get it Out” and “Out of Mana” wouldn’t have sounded completely out of place on The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me. All this to say, there’s a little something for everyone, and while many of the tracks don’t seem like they should make sense in album form, the band does an impeccable job of tying things together into a cohesive, fluid story.
With such a shifting bedrock beneath him, it’s impressive to once again watch Lacey hold his own. At times, Science Fiction plays out like a dark worship album, voiced by a man plagued by depression and demons. The album is crafted to play out like a recorded therapy session, but to limit it as just that would be an injustice. Herein, Lacey tackles big concepts like the threat of nuclear war and the bigotry of right-wing Christianity. In terms of scope, Science Fiction may very well have been Lacey’s biggest challenge and his grandest success.
I keep going back to “Could Never Be Heaven”, a sonically delicate song that would seem to offer a reprieve from the album’s harsh guitars. Instead, it’s a weighty track, with Lacey searching for a response from an unknown party. “Do you know the words that make the hidden door open? / Can you speak my secret name and fix me?” he asks at the song’s outset. By the song’s end, he seems to offer an answer to himself, finding comfort in his family. It’s the kind of uncertain, indefinite complexity that makes an album worth coming back to.
When Science Fiction is at its best, it’s asking hard questions and wrestling with hard truths about depression, hopelessness and insecurities. In standard fashion, Lacey avoids offering answers. “It’s never going to stop”, he sings on the album’s closing track, “Batter Up”. If this is truly the final song we ever hear from Brand New, what a punishing blow. I’m not sure whether it’s beautiful or tragic that such an ending feels hauntingly fitting.
In the coming weeks and months, we’ll all dig deeper into this record and come away with a better feel for what the band has given us over the course of 16 years and five commendable albums. It’s easy to make a reflex statement about Science Fiction being their best in the midst of the album’s chaotic release. One thing’s for sure, though – Brand New flexed their muscles on this one. It’s an intricate, complex, layered rock album made by professional musicians that know how to play their instruments. There really haven’t been many rock albums in recent years that can touch it from a technical standpoint.
Maybe that’s why it took eight years. Maybe that’s why there was no big rollout or celebration leading up to its release. Maybe Brand New simply wanted to drop this in our hands, unexpectedly, and walk away, truly letting the music speak for itself.
That would seem to be the message from Lacey, who on “In the Water” reflects on the band’s career and characteristically needles himself about his own drive, desire and ability to craft the songs that all of us pine for. “Can’t fake it enough / I don’t want it enough / So everyone’ll wait”, he sings. The wait was worth it.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.