If the rumors are true, this will be Brand New’s final album. It’s not a sad last gasp for breath nor is it a number of recycled demos and singles that the band’s fans have heard a fair amount in recent years. There’s nothing wrong with “Mene”, “I Am A Nightmare”, or the 3 Demos, Reworked EP, and it would have been fully acceptable to stick those songs on Science Fiction. Still, Brand New revealed they had one final trick up their sleeves, and that results in the band’s perfect, catatonic, terrifying, heavy farewell album.
Science Fiction succeeds in every category beginning from its bizarre rollout: announcement of limited vinyl, website crash, strange packages, unexpected announcement and release two days later. Brand New is to alternative rock, what Beyoncé is to pop, and a shock and surprise release is exactly what this album deserved. Science Fiction needs to be appreciated in one sitting of hearing the album straight through.
There are more classic rock tropes on this album than before, from the extended songs, shredding solos, and excessive use of acoustic guitar. Still, this album reaches new sonic experiments that Brand New haven’t touched yet. It has tracks like “451” and “Desert” that show a major blues-influence, the former sounding like a Black Keys song. They play with texture a lot, where a bunch of the album sounds like it was recorded in an abandoned estate. It’s the best produced album in their discography, where even a song like “Desert,” which has the coldest lyrics still sounds incredibly warm. Even in the albums most depressing moments, it still welcomes the listener into its depths.
Still, what has truly made Brand New most notable have always been their lyrics. Jesse Lacey touches down on a number of old themes-religion, grief and depression, unlikable characters-as well as a few new ones, mainly the sci-fi that the title implies. The closing track “Batter Up” hints at themes of extraterrestrial life, and the spoken interludes almost sound like they were nicked from Creepypastas, but they do set a certain chilling atmosphere throughout the album. “Lit Me Up” opens the album with dark arpeggios in a chilling atmosphere, with Lacey’s haunting tone, but Lacey does manage to expand these into much bigger ideas.
Religion is still a major force in Lacey’s lyrics. It’s evident from the beginning although it seems like he’s mostly turned his back on a bunch of his Christian faith. On “Lit Me Up,” Lacey sings, “When I grow up, I want to be a heretic” to “It lit me up, and I burned from the inside out/Yeah, I burned like a witch in a Puritan town.” “Desert” sees Lacey taking on a character that uses religious rhetoric to spew hateful views, and with a release coming not even a week after the violence in Charlottesville, it’s one of the most chilling takes on the album. “Desert” and “137” are two of the more politically charged anthems of the album, with “137” leading to a chorus of:
Let’s all go play Nagasaki
We Can all get vaporized
Hold my hand, let’s turn to ash.
I’ll see you on the otherside.
“137” also contains allusions to Christian-faith.
Still, mental health is probably the biggest thing on Jesse Lacey’s mind throughout Science Fiction. In the ultra-catchy “Can’t Get It Out,” the song’s final refrain goes
I’m just a manic depressive
Toting around my own crown.
I’ve got a positive message
Sometimes, I can’t get it out.
“Could Never Be Heaven” is actually a really sweet love song with mental illness as a theme, where Lacey sings about his love of his wife and family and how they help him cope with his depression. “Out of Mana” seems to recount therapy sessions, beginning with “Write down all of your fears.” Fittingly, the closing “Batter Up” is a somber take about the infinity of living with depression, and outer-space is a nice touch to illustrate it.
If this is Brand New’s last hurrah, it’s a damn-good one. There is a part of me that really hopes that the title Science Fiction means they have one last trick up their sleeve, whether it’s one more album or a psyche-out retirement. Still, I’ll take Science Fiction. It’s a safe good-bye.