‘Science Fiction’ is the album we deserve… but not quite the album we need.
“This tape recounts a dream which occurred close to the termination of approximately 400 hours of intensive, individual therapy. Now, the patient recounts her dream.”
These are the opening words that begins Brand New’s fifth, and potentially final album, ‘Science Fiction’. Though this audio recording of a woman speaking said words is quickly followed up by a few lines from the “patient” before the actual song of ‘Lit Me Up’ kicks off, I do not think that this dream ends when that particular sample ends and the true music begins. No, I think that this “dream” actually ends when the final note of this new record’s closing track, ‘Batter Up’, fades away into nothingness and all that you’re left with is harrowing silence.
See, ‘Science Fiction’ is the dream that’s the very real culmination of over four-hundred hours of work from the band that, in a lot of ways, has served as a therapeutic outlet to their problems. We also know that this release is teetering on the end of Brand New’s run as a collective so the use of the phrase “close to the termination” makes perfect sense because we are indeed close to the termination of this band and their personal therapy; sixty-one minutes away, to be exact.
This is where I’ll leave off my deep, brooding analysis of ‘Science Fiction‘ and leave such matters to the fans who are far more dedicated and further down this band’s rabbit hole than I am, but the above reading is the context I listened to this record in. As I feel that ‘Science Fiction’ is not necessarily an answer to the question that is Brand New and what they represent but is rather, simply, the end to that question itself.
So, let’s dive right into Brand New’s latest and final nightmare…
Firstly, there is a lot to love on ‘Science Fiction’ that doesn’t require much in the way of “getting it”. Meaning that some of the songs here just work without you having to take a hit of LSD, think about your dead relatives and lie down facing north on your bed under the cover of K-Mart fairly lights. Or some such nonsense. No, this record is satisfying without any extra meta BS or context needed.
The second track, ‘Can’t Get It Out’, is one of these very songs and it is utterly awesome! The song by no means pushes the envelope on what we culturally know as music to be (Christ, that was pretentious in me trying not to be pretentious) but it works in all of its simplicity. What begins as soft acoustic guitar strumming quickly divulges into a huge, riffing, grungy chorus that feels like a maturation on the sound that ‘Your Favorite Weapon’ once founded. You know, just minus the ex-girlfriend hating and the desire to kill certain members of Taking Back Sunday. It’s catchy, emotional, beautiful and easily stands at as not only one of the best songs housed within this record but one of the best from the band’s entire career.
Likewise but also contrastingly, ‘137’ is another standout composition. It begins in a hauntingly beautiful, quiet manner with gentle guitar plucking and distant drums as singer Jesse Lacey gently soothes us with lyrics about playing Nagasaki and getting vaporized. It’s a song that works both in the aforementioned state of a higher state of mind but it also works as I sit here at my computer desk, completely dry and sober, listening back to this record as I type out these thoughts. The track builds so organically and naturally into its final climax, a finale that even features a gorgeous wailing guitar solo to round it out before a final chorus.
‘In The Water’ and ‘No Control’ both use acoustic textures to great result. They’re subtle but they allow these songs to reach an extra level of depth. They also feel, in a lot of ways, lazy and almost out of time. There’s something so real and natural to the mix and the musicianship here that it’s almost hypnotic. It places a weight upon your shoulders and makes you feel drowsy and light headed yet there’s nothing in the songs that stand out as the clear indication for this – they’re just written and recorded in such a visceral, impactful way that creates that effect. ‘The Devil And God…‘ and ‘Daisy‘, this is most certainly not.
Brand New also know how to bring things down to a far more intimate level with ‘Could Never Be Heaven’ and ‘Batter Up’. The pair both take a more bare bones and minimalistic approach of acoustic guitars and Lacey’s voice lamenting beautifully for the majority of the two tracks runtime, yet the band layers on the ambiance and softly murmuring pads to bring each track to life and fill out some of the spatial emptiness. This helps to suck you into the headspace the band has tried to meticulously to create, hopefully allowing anyone who is pulled in to fully appreciate the beauty they’ve aimed at presenting. For instance, the latter’s electric guitar melodies beautifully sing in a call and response fashion to one another and stay with you long after the song has ended and those dulcet guitars have fully faded away.
However, sadly, it’s not all masterful simplicity. Sometimes it’s just mere, passable simplicity and nothing more.
‘Same Logic/Teeth’ just feels like a far less impactful version of ‘137’, which actually follows on from this rather lackluster track. The song’s also in A minor, a key I otherwise loathe personally, so it didn’t have much going for it begin with but it still fails to hit the same kind of mark as other songs here do. It sounds like Brand New just tried to write the most “Brand New” thing they could think of and forgot what that special something actually was. The synths towards the end also feel out of place before the outro that then descends into something we’d hear from Taking Back Sunday, albeit with far less quality. Now, ‘Desert’ is a nice, soothing track but after one just listen it becomes an easily skippable affair as we already had a similar, stripped back and darkened moment with the beginning of ‘137’ or even the album’s solid opener, ‘Lit Me Up’ – both to a far greater degree than what ‘Desert‘ could achieve.
So, the question remains, was this record worth the wait as Brand New’s final recorded goodbye?
Is ‘Science Fiction’ the swan song we had expected from Brand New after all this back and forth; this teasing of singles and songs before eventually having this new album suddenly fall from the sky?
…Yes and no.
There is a lot here that works and plenty that myself and a majority of other fans will love. But there are also a couple parts here that are swept under the rug. There’s indeed an ebb and flow of quality here and where that might be somewhat acceptable on a sophomore release or a band’s third record (coincidentally, that was this particular band’s most lauded release), but when it’s your final album as far as anyone is concerned, there needs to be a bit more… brilliance. More life and more consistency to ensure that that finality is a beautiful and fulfilling last breath.
‘Science Fiction‘ is the final round of drinks of our night out with Brand New and though it’s been one hell of a wild night, not all of us are drunk enough to not know when we’re being poured watered-down gin and not that sweet, sweet Shiraz.
PC: Brandon Sloter, 2017, Billboard.
Please send all hate mail to my personal twitter. ‘Science Fiction’ is out now via Procrastinate! Music Traitors.