Brand New: Science Fiction

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Regrets, I’ve had a few. Like back in 2005 when I went to see Dashboard Confessional in Washington DC. I remember people going nuts about the tour and stating that the openers could not be missed. People that have seen a lot of shows usually try to catch the openers because you never know when you might stumble upon the next… Brand New. Well, obvi I wanted to see D/C. Don’t judge! I also really wanted to catch Rooney, for some reason. When we arrived at the venue, I had to get my gameface on, they weren’t allowing beer in the auditorium. You had to drink outside. As I sat there sipping my Heineken, sounds leaked out from under the door; sounds being made by Brand New. All the kids were milling about in their bright red “Brand Nizzle” T-shirts. I thought about buying one. Haven’t seen one like it since, couldn’t even find it today on a Google image search. I think that some of those sounds leaking from under the door made it into my ears, and into my brain. When I finally broke down and bought Deja Entendu, the first listen was like being reunited with an old friend. I had DE on 24/7 for a few months and then I had to ration it out a bit. I grabbed a copy of Your Favorite Weapon which helped to scratch the itch. Then came TDAGARIM, Daisy. I’ve seen them quite a few times since then and they always bring the house down. I wish I could go to that auditorium in 2005, see them play their new stuff off of Deja Entendu. Unfortunately, sometimes you just don’t get a second chance.

So where are we? 2017? In 2005, Donald Trump was in his third season of the Apprentice, “You’re Fired” reverberated through the country as the catchphrase of the day. Now Donald Trump is President of the United States. Back in 2005 it seemed we were on the upswing. Having made it through Y2K and 9/11, the future looked bright. Today, although unemployment is at an all-time low and the stock market is at an all-time high, a lot of people are angry, the hatred and anger flowing out into the streets. This country has evolved, some might say devolved, and we need voices that can provide sanity and consolation to the disaffected masses. Back in 2005, Jesse Lacey was touring on a record that had just begun to scratch the surface of the deeper thoughts in his head. What does he have to say in 2017? Can he and his mates in Brand New provide some solace in these maddening times?

I guess I’m not the only one looking for comfort right now as Science Fiction debuted at number one on the Billboard Chart, Brand New’s first number one record; proving the masses have not completely gone mad. I’ve had the album on heavy rotation for the last month. My quick thoughts are that it’s eminently listenable. The 60 or so minutes just seem to fly by. I remember an interview in which Lacey said that this record will go in a direction Brand New could have gone in rather than the one that led them to Daisy. Science Fiction certainly eschews the trademark screams and call-and-response choruses for more introspective and mature deliveries. Mike Sapone, long time Brand New collaborator, does an exceptional job manning the boards. Brand New just sounds fuller on this record; every track on the board has something going on. Science Fiction rewards the repeat listener with new subtle nuances. I really get the feeling that Brand New and Sapone spent time crafting this record, they use discordant noises, overdubbed soundbites (a la Lacey’s BAE The Smiths), Keys, and even background singers. It’s almost as if BN had gone back to the 70s and created a record like Kansas or Pink Floyd.

The album opens with a bizarre recording of a woman in psychotherapy. She’s discussing a dream where she’s at a convention feeling out of place. She concludes, “While I don’t mind having all this going on inside of me, it’s sort of–I think I’m going to be relieved when it’s over, when I can sort of settle back down.” Brand New spends the rest of the album echoing these sentiments in one form or another. Lit Me Up almost sounds like it could have been on TDAGARIM. It reminds me of Sowing Season a bit. When Lacey drops the line “You lit me up like a witch in a puritan town,” he demonstrates that he hasn’t lost his penchant for turning a clever phrase. Track two, Can’t get it out, opens with a strummed acoustic guitar, another recurring theme on Science Fiction. In fact, I think there is an acoustic guitar somewhere on every track. This song will definitely please the Brand New purists and represents the most traditional Brand New-sounding song on the record. Waste comes next, and I’m getting the Kansas vibes here as Lacey drones over acoustic and feedback, “Every night you were tripping out. In the morning you were coming down. If it’s breaking your heart, if nothing is fun. Don’t lose hope, my son. This is the last one.” Is he talking about life on the road as a musician? Is he foreshadowing the end of Brand New? I’m catching a lot of Smiths on Could Never be Heaven, it reminds me of Back to the Old House, although CNBH is a beautiful tune in its own right. Same Logic/Teeth will also please the purists, and we even get some screams here too!! But there is something untraditional about the Sergeant Peppers-esque goofy line “At the bottom of the ocean fish won’t judge you by your faults.” Beautiful and powerful encapsulate my thoughts of Science Fiction and the next song 137. “Let’s all go play Nagasaki, we can all get vaporized.” Lacey sounds defeated, as if he is resigned to the fact that the system can’t be changed and he’s embraced his fate of turning to ash. This song resonates with me in our current political climate where the system seems to have failed us and the only thing we can hope for is a quick and painless end. It could also be construed as an odd allegory on the end of Brand New.

Did I mention the 70s vibe? Out of Mana brings some serious funk feels by using a wah pedal and some kind of synthesized chorus inspired by Boston. In the Water sticks with the 70s mojo, this could be America or the Eagles. Stripped down acoustic, slide acoustic, electric piano, harmonica, it’s a trip! Desert throws some blues in there with a riff that would make Keith Richards jealous, they also stole the Stones backup singers!!! “Don’t come running to me, when they’re coming for you.” Remember Neil Young singing “Tin Soldiers and Nixon’s coming…” No Control brings the nostalgia trip to an abrupt halt. The booming reverbed-out bass hearkening back to the traditional Brand New. 451 does a great job melding the whole blues-come-Brand New sound into one song. The record closes with Batter Up, fans might think Tautou, this tune does conjure up thoughts of the sounds and themes of Deja Entendu. If this is how Brand New closes out it’s career, it’s fitting, “It’s never going to stop. Batter up. Give me your best shot. Batter up.”

Is this the end of Brand New? I think the cryptic messages coming from Lacey and Crew suggested 2018 as their last year. The songs on Science Fiction certainly have a somber tone and there are many allusions to the end, be it “this is the last one” or “Let’s all go play Nagasaki.” If they do call it quits after SN, they will certainly be going out on a high note. For all fans of Brand New, I assume you already have this record on heavy rotation. It is most definitely in my ten best of 2017. With sabers rattling around the world and a demagogue with his finger on the button, might as well float off into oblivion to the sweet sounds of Brand New’s Science Fiction.

5/5 Stars



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