Words by Mary Varvaris
It’s strange to express just how it feels to be listening to Brand New’s fifth album. It’s an album many fans, including myself, lost faith in ever happening. It has been eight years since Daisy, but the band has still maintained a rabid, devoted fanbase. Through touring, stops and starts in recording and new fans discovering the band in their own ways, Brand New remained a hugely popular band in those eight years. Before the 15th of August (my 21st birthday… I’m going to maintain that none of what followed was coincidence, okay?), LP5 was something we thought would never happen but hey, the band already given us some incredible albums.
On the 15th of August, Brand New made the announcement that their fifth album was coming, and that 500 initial pressings of the vinyl was now available to order, and would ship in October. But just two days after this announcement, the lucky 500 that purchased the limited vinyl pre-order started receiving ominous CDs in the mail that contained a single 61 minute track. Only hours later, the band made Science Fiction available – an unlimited pressing of vinyl, also available on CD and digitally. So, naturally, many fans haven’t stopped listening to Brand New since then.
Science Fiction is a real treat. It’s a combination of all of the band’s past work with some new sounds sprinkled in, keeping it fresh. Jesse Lacey’s voice, that we’ve known and loved for 17 years, sings heartbreakingly honest lyrics yet again, with a range of influences from R.E.M. to Modest Mouse to The Smiths inspiring many songs. Brand New’s music has never been more acoustically driven than it is in Science Fiction, and the acoustic guitar has never added so much emotion. You have Can’t Get It Out, which wouldn’t have seemed out of place had it appeared on Deja Entendu. Waste is lovely and reminiscent of The Cranberries. Could Never Be Heaven is a folk-driven, gentle tune with my favourite bridge on the album:
“You are not alone
We are not separate
My daughter’s shoulders are my shoulders
My son’s hands my hands
My wife’s heart my own heart
I’ve heard the outer darkness is really nice this time of year”
Waste and Could Never Be Heaven come together like two-parts of the same song, with the reminder “you are not alone” repeated in both songs. The mention of “outer darkness” could be a call-back to Sealed To Me – a song Lacey played live a few times in 2015 but hasn’t been officially released yet. Science Fiction might be as emotionally raw as Brand New’s masterpiece The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, as we hear Lacey at his most self-aware and honest. Science Fiction offers us another glimpse into Jesse Lacey’s psyche, which is not something to be taken.
Science Fiction, like Daisy, contains some weird samples from tapes the band bought years ago, only in Science Fiction, they’re much creepier. Album opener Lit Me Up begins with a harrowing sampled tape of a woman recounting a dream after “400 hours of intensive, individual therapy“. It introduces concepts that are prominent throughout Science Fiction – therapy, mental illness, awareness, and is haunting and moody. The track is an example of what Brand New do best – Jesse Lacey harmonising with himself, dark guitar tones – and it introduces a new Brand New album perfectly. Lit Me Up also has a haunting, brooding bass line, just a small snippet of how understatedly brilliant bassist Garrett Tierney is throughout the whole record. Lit Me Up also seems to free the band – with the end of the tape stating, “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”, and Jesse’s last line being, “it was a good dream“. The pressure Brand New put on themselves to release LP5, and to make it as great as their past work, as well as pressure from the fans and critics would be exhausting. Brand New’s awareness about their struggles is everywhere, and the very next song is just as introspective as Lit Me Up.
Can’t Get It Out bears resemblance to the song structures on Deja Entendu – a simple rock song at first glance but on further inspection, so much more than that. Can’t Get It Out is a song for the Brand New fans who have waited for so long for Science Fiction. Jesse is speaking directly to us when he sings, “I want to tell you we’re alright, want to erase all your doubt” and asks “were you one of the cured kids?” A song describing the weight on Jesse’s shoulders to write great music could’ve become bitter and angry, and in 2006, it was much harder for Jesse to deal with how much this band means to fans, as he yelled “I am not your friend, I’m not your lover, I’m not your family!” in The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me’s Sowing Season. Now, in 2017, Jesse is being candid and kind with himself and with us, calmly singing “I’ve got a positive message. Sometimes I can’t get it out.”
Same Logic/Teeth is a song that I’m already calling a career highlight for Brand New. Even when electric guitars enter and the song becomes devastatingly heavy, the acoustic guitar never lets up. It is a sprawling song that goes to so many places, and while it’s a difficult song to listen to, it is a classic in the making as it explores mental illness, self harm, and self-loathing. It is a song clearly influenced by Modest Mouse – both by their music and by touring with them last year. The moment the horns are introduced, the song is brought to a whole other level, in the same way they elevate Modest Mouse’s Spitting Venom from their 2007 album We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank. Same Logic/Teeth is a such a dynamic song, and the songs that follow are just as distinct and powerful. The next three songs feature guitar solos, each on incredibly different in themes and sound. I’d usually find more than one guitar solo trite – but the guitar solos in 137, Out Of Mana and In The Water are well earnt climaxes. Vincent Accardi shows off his superb skills throughout these tracks, stirring up your emotions by the time you reach his guitar solo for In The Water.
137 is a song about a forgotten bombing, the absurdity of human beings so willing to kill each other, and eventually learning to “love the bomb“, and it leads us into the second half of Science Fiction in a big way. “We started with psychodrama…” says the mystery woman in the sample before the stunning 137 begins – a track influenced b y Nirvana and Alice In Chains. It’s a slow-burning, melancholic song where Lacey questions a deity: was human kind created to only wind up destroying itself? Is life as humans know it an experiment? In the second verse, Jesse ponders:
“Before the garden
When you were all alone
You made the atom
Was that some inside joke?
Open the gates
And then conceal the path
Let’s load the gun
And see how long they last”
The second half of Science Fiction is intense and experimental. Out of Mana is an energetic, hard rock song with an absolutely beautiful outro that could (and should) be a song in it’s own right. In The Water includes a banjo, mandolin, harmonica and an organ, and it is glorious. It follows the same lyrical trajectory as Can’t Get It Out, expressing the band’s insecurities surrounding their achievements and efforts (“drowning in the praise” and “can’t fake it enough / I don’t want it enough / so everyone’ll wait“). In The Water calls back to Daisy, with the same sampled tape: “And we sing this morning that wonderful and grand ol’ message / And I don’t know about you, I never get tired of it”, and a robotic voice repeatedly saying “the seven years” to close the track. In The Water is Brand New’s swan song, directly telling us why the band is ending in 2018. Then, there’s Desert: where Lacey takes on a bigoted Christian man’s point of view. Underneath the grooving guitars, Lacey tells a frightening tale, addressing the hypocrisy behind Christians who choose which people they love and hate with the song’s final line: “God is love”. For those who believe Jesse Lacey or the band are bigots, I urge you to see these posts.
Brand New close Science Fiction with Batter Up. On first listen, it seems like a barren, defeated song. After all, the first line is “in the valley of your slowly fading memory“. The guitar melody is so simple and sad and eerily similar to the melody of Jesus, and it is the perfect album closer, as it wrapping up all the themes of Science Fiction, creating a sense of finality to it all. To me, Batter Up is a hopeful song. It shows us an individual who has been living with mental illness for a very long time, but has learned how to deal with it, and things seem less overwhelming. Because, even though the “roar died” in Lacey’s throat, and he lost who he once was, he found himself in love with his family and could find a way forward. The song’s title is directly applied to fighting one’s demons, and proves that Lacey does his best to hit life out of the park.
Batter Up is an introspective, brooding closer to Science Fiction and to Brand New’s career. In it, Jesse Lacey addresses his ongoing fight with mental illness, and considers what life would be like if Brand New never existed (in an old interview, Jesse shared his self doubt about being in a band). Lacey mourns a life he never had in Batter Up, but has learnt to live with his choices, and through Science Fiction, he sounds proud, humble and maybe a little bit surprised by his band’s success. There is no use speculating about a sixth album, it’s clear that the band is hanging it up. Yes, Brand New gained a reputation for being mysterious (when they were just quiet), but they have never been dishonest. So, Science Fiction is the end of an incredible career by a very special band that has lit a torch for up-and-coming genre-neutral bands that wear their hearts on their sleeves. But the music lives on, and they’re a band that will always be loved by their fans. That’s quite a legacy to leave. And while the thoughts of legacy are overwhelming, scary and sometimes downright stupid, I hope Brand New are proud of everything they’ve done. I know we all are.