After eight year wait, Brand New return with stunning ‘Science Fiction’
Long heralded as one of the giants of emo music, Brand New took quite a break between their fourth and fifth records.
After “Daisy,” the band fell off the face of the earth for eight years, leaving fans clamoring for more.
Now, finally, the band released their fifth LP, “Science Fiction,” and it seems that the band spent that time crafting something remarkable.
But before we talk too much about the album, I’d like to take a moment to make a confession about myself: “emo,” as a genre, is something that totally passed me by while it was at its height. Bands like Bright Eyes, American Football and, yes, Brand New just weren’t in my middle school rotation when everyone else was freaking out about them.
Instead, I sort of happened into the genre later in life, backing into it from shoegaze, which was itself introduced to me through black metal. It’s a weird progression, I know, but all of this is to say that I wasn’t one of the fans clamoring for “Science Fiction” for eight years.
But this album is so good that it makes me wish I were one of the folks waiting for it.
The album is moody and spacey (perhaps fitting, considering its title), as becomes immediately obvious with the album’s opener, “Lit Me Up,” an eerie and plodding track that almost stalks the listener.
The track opens with an unsettling sample of a therapist discussing a dream with a patient, before lead singer Jesse Lacey moves into lyrics that seem to describe a sudden, violent revelation that “lit (him) up” like “a witch in a Puritan town.” Lacey even seems to channel Swans’ Michael Gira with his gravelly delivery, especially on the cathartic line “When I grow up, I wanna be a heretic.”
Speaking of heresy, “Science Fiction” continues a theme of Brand New’s, in that religion — and its problems —serves as a major motif.
“Could Never Be Heaven,” one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking cuts on the album, is an obvious place to start when we’re looking at religion on “Science Fiction,” as Lacey croons to some lost listener that it “Could never be heaven without you.” But it goes a bit deeper than that.
In the second verse, Lacey sings, “I was drowning in the lake, damned / Over a dead mining town.” The placement of the word damned in one line and not the other is interesting, as it suggests that Lacey is the one damned, instead of just the lake being dammed. This suggests Lacey is not just deprived of heaven without the listener that he’s equating with God; instead, he’s drowning in hell. Lacey’s pain, coupled with the drearily strummed guitar, makes this track a real punch to the gut.
Later on in the album, Lacey takes a far more critical view of religion in the song “Desert.” Here, Lacey takes on the character of a God-fearing man, bemoaning how the world doesn’t fit into his Christian values, citing “boys kissing boys” as one of the abominations he sees.
But the chorus of the song suggests that Lacey thinks this brand of conservatism is hypocritical, as the song ends with the speaker repeating a seemingly un-Christian refrain: “Don’t come running to me when they’re coming for you.” Lacey suggests religious conservatives may think of themselves as better than their fellow man, but won’t help when help is needed.
There are plenty more examples of Lacey struggling with religion on the record (with numerous images of water, seeming to be used as both a cleansing image and as a damning one, as previously mentioned), but I’m already running the risk of making this sound like an English class term paper, so let’s talk about the music itself.
Throughout the record, Brand New remains committed to the spacey, eerie sounds introduced in “Lit Me Up.” They take some occasional diversions into hard-rocking tracks, especially on “Can’t Get It Out” and “Same Logic/Teeth” (the latter of which being the only track with Lacey’s typically screamed vocals), but otherwise, Brand New are all about making eerie mood music here.
And that mood is the same anxiety that can be found on records by Radiohead and Swan.
Throughout the record, Lacey makes numerous references to drowning, and it seems that’s the feeling Brand New is trying to instill in the listener here. Lacey’s voice, typically powerful on other records, is more subtle and subdued, leaving the listener anxious of what’s lying beneath the surface.
In fact, the whole band is more subdued. Instead of rocking out like they normally do, they keep things more subtle. They show impressive restraint, allowing the mood to creep up around them.
“Science Fiction” is an incredible record, with instrumentals that prop up the emotion of the lyrics, and with lyrics worthy of careful listening. Rumors have been swirling that “Science Fiction” will be Brand New’s final album, and if that’s true, then they are certainly bowing out on a high note.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6119 or on Twitter @PatKernan.
Album: ‘Science Fiction’
Artist: Brand New
Label: Procrastinate! Music Traitors
Best tracks: ‘Could Never Be Heaven,’ ‘Lit Me Up,’ ‘Same Logic/Teeth’