Review: Brand New – Science Fiction

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.

You can buy Science Fiction on iTunes.

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.

4.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Brand New Announce New Album Releasing This Fall

Well, it’s finally happening. Today, Brand New tweeted out a link to preorder their fifth full length album on vinyl, along with some new tour dates to support the new record. The rest of the details remain fairly fuzzy to this point, but the already-sold-out vinyl is set to ship in October.

Last year, Brand New released a new single titled “I Am a Nightmare”, but no further information regarding an upcoming album ever surfaced. For a few years, fans have speculated that the band’s next album might be their last. For now, though, we’ll excitedly anticipated what will certainly be one of the most talked about albums of the year. Check out the tour dates below:

While we await more news, you can take a listen to “I Am a Nightmare” below.

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Reflecting On: Brand New – The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me

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I wasn’t into Brand New before it was cool. But I did love the Long Island emo rockers before The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me landed on November 20, 2006. In fact, I was waiting for it. By that time, I knew what to expect—straightforward mid-aughts rock with pop punk undertones and intense, passionate vocals. That, however, is not what the band brought to the table with its third album.

The first track, “Sowing Season (Yeah),” begins quietly—Jesse Lacey’s vocals just a whisper, the solitary guitar a mere hum—before exploding into a mourning waltz. “Time to get the seeds into the cold ground,” the lyrics say. “Takes a while to grow anything before it’s coming to an end, yeah.” Lacey, who was raised in a religious family and attended Christian school, is no doubt referring to the parable of the sower. The sower spreads seeds of faith across his land, but only those that land in good conditions, free of rocks and weeds and tough soil, are able to sprout. The rest wither and die.

With a title like The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, it’s pretty obvious that faith will be important, but it’s not everything. The album signaled a departure in sound and subject for the band. While the band’s first two albums, Your Favorite Weapon (2001) and Deja Entendu (2003), as well as the 2009 followup, Daisy, scream of the era in which they were made, this one ignored many emo hallmarks and as a result retains a timeless individuality.

My first taste of Brand New arrived on a black-nail-polish-decorated mix CD from a girl whose heart I’d eventually break. This was freshman year of high school, and “Jude Law and a Summer Abroad,” playing over and over on my anti-skip disc player, made so much sense.

Just months later, the band released Deja Entendu. While it was catchy, I didn’t notice anything too extreme until a trip to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A friend’s parents drove him, me and another guy from Indianapolis to Cleveland in their early ’90s GMC Vandura.

Back then, we wore black T-shirts with red letters and the metal-studded belts and bracelets of the variety that young rebels buy at shopping malls. Into the tops of our baseball caps, we screwed silver spikes—also bought at shopping malls—to be unique, to be true individuals.

“You’re different,” my parents would say about our clothes and our music, “just like everyone else who shops at Hot Topic.” They’d refuse to let me leave the house wearing black on black, since the Bible said to avoid even the appearance of evil. As youth worship leader, I had a reputation to keep. But in the Vandura on the way to Cleveland, I could wear whatever I wanted—listen to whatever I wanted.

The van had been retrofitted with a multi-disc changer, and my friend’s parents were usually very lax about letting us choose the tunes. However, somewhere near the Ohio border, in the middle of “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows,” they asked—no, demanded—that we change it. No more Brand New for the rest of the trip.

“I can’t take the screaming,” said his dad, even though Brand New is pretty mild compared to Emery or From Autumn to Ashes or similar bands we listened to then.

“Maybe put on Blink-182 again,” his mom pleaded, “or Eminem.”

I couldn’t understand it. That song was one of the most radio-ready tracks of the year—of emo music, maybe ever. Though I couldn’t understand their reasons why, I could see, for the first time, that something truly subversive hid in Brand New’s music.

I associate Deja Entendu and Your Favorite Weapon with my own fake rebellion. The period, the music, is full of youthful angst and artifice, leading to a larger crisis. The third album broke free of the pattern. At that time, something broke inside me. We both rebelled for real.

Amid the mix of instrumental interludes and hard-hitting rock, including the eight-minute masterpiece “Limousine,” the song that sticks out on The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me is “Jesus Christ.” It starts out with that simple, repetitive guitar riff, which rings out in smooth, reverberating tones, unlike the distortion-heavy leads on other tracks.

While most of the song, a direct address to the son of God, could come across as snark, the Millennial insincerity that fuels Twitter, the ending provides a moment of clarity. “I know you think that I’m someone you can trust,” Lacey sings, “but I’m scared I’ll get scared / and I swear I’ll try to nail you back up.” This song, the first time I heard it, gutted me, especially the moment when the singer worriedly warns Christ: “I know you’re coming for the people like me / but we’ve all got wood and nails…” Honestly, it still guts me. Every time.

The album expresses doubt in an authentic way and ruminates on it, often shouting it out. (I wonder how my friend’s dad would’ve reacted to the vocal-chords-shredding refrain in “You Won’t Know.”) This rumination shows in the music as well. Most songs feature repetitious chord progressions. Some songs repeat two chords over and over. The tracks use varying drum patterns or guitar and bass riffs to delineate chorus from verse from bridge, creating a tapestry of sounds and weaving various threads through each piece.

Stripped to its most essential elements, the album is about loss. Loss of loved ones, loss of faith, loss of friendships, and loss of self—the losses compound into a black hole of longing. Something that once was there no longer is. Which is obvious especially in “Millstone.” “I used to be such a burning example / I used to be so original,” Lacey sings, later adding: “I used to pray like God was listening / I used to make my parents proud.” Even if you haven’t strayed, you know how it feels to disappoint, to remember how much potential you possessed when you were younger.

It’s a crisis that doesn’t fade with age. It’s a sentiment that remains real even after the break-up anthems of high school feel dated. Maybe that’s why The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me continues to be essential listening 10 years later.

by James Figy

james_figyJames Figy is a writer from Indianapolis and MFA candidate at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He has two cats, two rabbits, and an amateurish collection of Duke Ellington LPs. His creative work has appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Punchnel’s, and the anthology Bad Jobs & Bullshit.

Brand New to play entire discography live

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It looks like Brand New is going to be playing two shows on each coast in which they perform their entire discography. The dates are below:

December 9: The Observatory, Santa Ana, CA
December 10: The Observatory, Santa Ana, CA
December 20: The Paramount, Huntington, NY
December 21: Starland Ballroom, Sayreville, NJ

You can preorder tickets for these shows here. General tickets go on sale this Thursday.

The shows will cover all four of the band’s studio albums (Your Favorite Weapon, Deja Entendu, The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me and Daisy) including the b-sides.

What Brand New album would you most like to see played in full? Leave your response in the replies.