It’s been a relatively quiet eight years for Rock/Emo icons Brand New. Since their 2009 release of Daisy, the four-piece rock band has laid low. Post-Daisy, they’ve only added a few demos and reworks to their library, surprising absolutely nobody. They went on tour with Modest Mouse in 2016, and played a couple of their albums in full, prompting fans to speculate whether or not Brand New was calling it quits. They could have just quietly faded away into the background noise of the bustling music industry if they wanted. Their legacy is secure. Deja Entendu gave them commercial success with anxious anthems like “Sic Transit,” or tear jerking ballads like “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot.” And then there was their 2006 follow up to Deja Entendu, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, which has widely been recognized as one of the most influential and important albums in alternative rock by music critics and writers alike. If they just stopped all together, they would have left nobody unsatisfied.
Then earlier in the week, Brand New launched a very limited (we’re talking 500 copies total) mail pre-order event that sold out almost instantly. Those who were quick enough to snag a pre-order got a mysterious CD with a single, hour-long track on it, titled “44.5902N104.7146W.” That long winded song (whose title points towards Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming) would become their new album.
With 12 tracks clocking in at just over an hour of music, and the pressure of having to outdo TDAGARIM weighing on their shoulders, Brand New officially released their fifth album, Science Fiction, on Aug. 18.
How does it sound? Will it disappoint their legion of rabid fans? Will is score critical and commercial success like their other works?
The answers to these questions are as follows: Great, no and yes.
Peppered with washed-out samples from dated documentaries about dream interpretation and psychoanalysis, Brand New’s Science Fiction breaks new ground for the band by looking back at their 17 year history and pulling from their contemporaries.
When you listen to Science Fiction, you’re getting a little of Brand New’s everything. Some pop-punk, some brooding emo, some self-flagellating post-hardcore, it’s all there, spread evenly throughout the record, pushed up next to some borrowed sounds that have found a home on Science Fiction.
Spread across 61 minutes, we hear influences from their touring partners Modest Mouse in the form of jarring, shouted choruses, and finally a baritone delivery of the lines “At the bottom of the ocean, fish won’t judge you for your thoughts,” on the track “Same Logic/Teeth” which sounds like it could have come from Isaac Brock himself. I think I even hear a trumpet playing somewhere in the song.
Influence from bands like The Mars Volta and Radiohead are even finding homes on Science Fiction, making their mark on tracks like “137” and “451.” And though reviews are still in the works by most major outlets, it comes as no surprise that Billboard’s Chris Payne has given Brand New’s latest effort a place among other modern rock titans such as Radiohead, Talk Talk, Swans and The Fall.
Overall though, I will say this: The tone of Science Fiction is dark. Not that Brand New hasn’t already been out drinking with their inner demons, but Science Fiction offers listeners a dark trek through their discography, arming you only with frontman Jesse Lacey’s often cryptic lyrics to find your way towards the eight-and-a-half minute closer “Batter Up.” The track strums along, lorded over by dreamy, often melancholy vocals, backed by heavy, almost gunshot-like drum arrangements.
The final track, and what may be the last song of Brand New’s nearly 20-year-long career, isn’t a ladder leading out of Science Fiction’s dark corridors. It’s more like a hand gently keeping you under the water, if only for Lacey to let a piece of himself die.
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