Brand New

Science Fiction

Written by: TL on 28/08/2017 18:34:27

If you never explored the emo genre and its modern history you might not know it, but to a generation of music fans worldwide, the band name Brand New and its legacy are sacred, their lyrics; scripture. And that is despite the fact that they are an enigmatic "studio band" extraordinaire - a 'Radiohead of the States', or a 'Tool of emo' if you'd like. The obvious joke then is that their new album is titled "Science Fiction" because, having been eight years in the making with the band's future often up for question, many would consider it as just that - something that would never happen. The question is, now that it has, should it?

Over the span of their career so far, Brand New have morphed from bittersweet pop-punk, into embittered self-deprecating emo rock, into more existential, atmospheric, grungy stuff, re-emerging entirely their own and entirely captivating after each successive transformation. And after pulling that off four times in a row and reaching the time in their lives where other things than band life might be demanding some attention, it's not really surprising for the sheer pressure of expectations to have given the band pause before getting to work on a fifth opus.

"Science Fiction", however, at the very least establishes quickly that Brand New, upon returning, have not altogether lost their touch. The album is unmistakably them, and yet a new and slightly different them, as most would expect by now. The record opens with the sombre, intentionally muffled "Lit Me Up", which frankly is a great start. It is extremely immersive and atmospheric and it makes you feel like the band has a new and powerful aesthetic ready to show you through. It's a bit odd though, when it is immediately followed by "Can't Get It Out", which is completely opposite in its lack of mysticism, heading straight to the point in an emo/grungy composition that doesn't surprise at any turn, yet manages to stand out as rather catchy all things considered. It is followed by "Waste", which opens with a bit highly reminiscent of The Cranberries' classic "Zombie" hit, and then by "Could Never Be Heaven", which has sort of a haunting folk feel to it.

As the album thus proceeds, you start to get the feeling that while Brand New still deploy their proven tricks - fans likely welcoming back the strong quiet/loud dynamics both between sombre and noisy guitar and mellow and shouted singing - there seem to be attempts at growing out of being a younger generation's rock band and appropriating a different kind of authenticity by borrowing elements from more "grown up" acts. Simon and Garfunkel come to mind in one place, The Pixies in another, while bluesy stuff like that of "451" for instance, could lead your thoughts to something like The Twilight Singers.

So far so good, nothing wrong with all that on principle, but throughout there are some annoying impressions lingering: Mainly, the urgency is noticeably lacking. For a band who named their website fightoffyourdemons (.com), Brand New are not really in fighting spirit here. On each previous record, the band's rage with one thing or the other has been palpable and contagious. On here, a combination of lacking drive and escalation in the arrangements, and of a mellower vocal performance of frontman Jesse Lacey, you get more of a feeling of resignation - of sceptic yet apathetic commentary on what's happening, but too much weariness to rage against it. And while that makes all kinds of sense for a band that's maturing, it doesn't make for songs that really seize you the way Brand New songs are expected to.

Give it a few listens, and the album will reward you with a few songs that grow on repeat visits. The opening two, as well as "137", "No Control" and "Batter Up" come readily to mind in this category. But at a long hour of runtime other songs feel like they could easily have been left out, as do some of the weird noises and tape-recorded conversation bits that are thrown in between tracks, especially considering that the illusion of a cohesive experience seems tossed already at track two or three anyway. Of course judging by the figures, with the album exploding up to number 1 on the Billboard 200, the storyline is already that Brand New are somehow breaking the music business, and their artistic qualities are raking in the purchases despite them dropping the album with zero marketing ahead of time. But that really speaks more of the quality of Brand New as a band from 2001 to 2009, when they were legendary. And if all the talk of "Science Fiction" being Brand New's last album holds true, one is not entirely convinced that the band's legacy wouldn't have been stronger without it.


Download: Lit Me Up, Can't Get It Out, 137, No Control, Batter Up
For The Fans Of: Manchester Orchestra, Thrice, Citizen

Release date 18.08.2017
Procrastinate Music Traitors

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