Brand New leaves their fans with a decent enough album before they part ways for good. Science Fiction is a quieter, more atmospheric journey that draws influence from Modest Mouse and Weezer.
|Artist: Brand New
Album Title: Science Fiction
Label: Procrastinate! Music Traitors
My experiences with Brand New have been nothing special. I don’t mean that they’ve been bad experiences in any way; I actually like the band quite a bit. Brand New just seem to inspire some next-level devotion in their fans that I just can’t relate to. I get that all bands have super fans who know every word to every song and probably know what the lead singer’s favourite food is and where he/she went to college, but with Brand New it all seems a bit keener, more emotive, maybe more obsessive? The band totally feed into that as well, elevating the status of their two best albums (Deja Entendu and The Devil and God are Raging Inside of Me) to modern classics with a whopping eight year wait for their new outing, Science Fiction. The less-is-more approach has done wonders for them really, as has being annoyingly meta and self-referential (one of the keys to being a successful emo band for some reason).
There’s nothing on Science Fiction about Jesse Lacey being paid to spill his guts on a stage or forgetting the names of the people he’s kissed, which I guess you’d classify as maturity. What we have here is an empty night-time road that Brand New leads the listener down at walking pace. Gone are the stark contrasts between heavy thrashing and quiet discomfort that characterised The Devil and God… or the pop hooks splattered on Deja Entendu. In their place are fuzzy voice recordings feeding in and out of the tracks à la Songs for the Deaf, some crystal clear acoustic guitars signalling campfire ballads, glistening lead guitar decorating the simple melodies and a nod to southern gothic and desert rock (particularly on the track Desert, funnily enough). It’s dreamy, it’s watery, it’s occasionally disquieting and scary. What a cool direction for the band to go in for their last ever album, offering the fans something different yet accomplished in its right. I feel like the general response from the fans would be a wavering thumbs up, a nice album to listen to from a beloved band that never quite hits the heights of the earlier work, but is at least a step up from Daisy. I doubt this album will translate well to live performances though.
We need to talk about Nostalgia. Whenever you hear Smashing Pumpkin’s “1979” you can’t help but imagine American teens in mid-90s attire cruising around in their parent’s cars on a summer’s eve, passing over a joint before vandalising the local Wall Mart. Brand New (ironically) are like the noughties version of that nostalgia. That’s why it makes perfect sense and yet seems strange in equal measure that this album should hark back to alternative rock and emo bands of the 90s, the main culprits being Modest Mouse and Weezer. We also have some nods to The National on album highlight “Could Never Be Heaven”, but mostly the album points toward a long-gone sound one can only now feel nostalgic for. Yes, Brand New fans are nostalgic, but for their own teen years, not Jesse Lacey’s. The influence of Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica is smeared all over these tracks, they’re just not as immersed in that winter wasteland landscape to quite the same degree as that album. “Can’t Get It Out!” doesn’t come across as just inspired by another band, it’s a straightforward lift of Weezer’s “In the Garage”. It’s the biggest disappointment on the album because Brand New really don’t need to do that at this stage of their career, and feels incongruous with what the rest of the album is trying to achieve, even if it fits in tonally. Another misstep is the jokey baritone that appears on the album twice, both times super high in the mix and both times falling flat.
So I guess we have a pretty good final album from a band that’s had a pretty good career. Yes, it almost feels like you’re listening to “Millstone” for an hour, but you’ve got to commend Brand New on their strong consistency and remarkable mixing and production on Science Fiction. It sucks to say goodbye to them but leaving the fans with an album as decent as this will certainly ease the pain.