Brand New-Science Fiction

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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.

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The Devil and God are Raging Inside Wallingford

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A ten-year anniversary tour seems like exactly the type of thing that Brand New would be against.  While the band has more or less played the same setlist for the past few years, playing The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me front to back on their current tour seems like something they’d probably skip.  While we still don’t have a new album, this tour was set to be a treat from the start as Modern Baseball and The Front Bottoms were set as openers.  Brand New tours are always special affairs, but having two of the biggest pop-punk and emo bands today open the tour makes it all the more important.

The first thing I noticed about the Oakdale Theatre is that it appears to be a renovated barn or, at least, added to one.  The venue’s lobby is beautiful with four bars and merch located front and center as you walk in.  As we entered the venue, the line for merch was already huge.  Once in the actual theatre, it was impossible not to notice how good everything sounded.  The way that distortion carried in the high-ceilinged venue is ideal for listening.

Modern Baseball’s set leaned heavily on their recent Holy Ghost, but the crowd was most receptive to “Tears Over Beers” and “Your Graduation.”  The Philly-Quartet even treated us to the Sports single “The Weekend” dedicating it to “our friend from Property of Zack.”  While it’s more typical to see MoBo headlining these days, the band still seems humbled by the reaction they stir in crowds.  Brendan Lukens let the crowd sing the first chorus of “Your Graduation” simply letting out a “you all rock.”  While it would be easy for Modern Baseball to just play the hits, playing mostly Holy Ghost songs seemed right especially as Lukens started to get emotional during “Just Another Face.”  It’s not often an opening band elicits a “One More Song” chant from an audience, but Modern Baseball did it.  Anytime seeing them is a reminder to what a special little band they are.

The Front Bottoms’ stage setup was decorated with lamps, a couch, a small tv, a case of PBR, and two seemingly random people sitting on that couch.  While The Front Bottoms are now a pop-punk staple, their stage show was reminiscent of the type of college party you probably first heard The Front Bottoms at.  Even opening with “The Plan (Fuck Jobs)” served as a reminder that they’re a band for college parties.

The Front Bottoms’ music was incredibly catchy and fun, as always.  The band danced around stage with as much excitement playing tracks from their first album as the ones from Back On Top.  The band can still surprise by throwing in a funky breakdown into outro of “Swimming Pool” or telling jokey stories about growing your hair out.  Brian Sella’s lyrics are always front and center when they play.  Sella is incredible lyricist for writing the type of lines that don’t make any sense, but you can completely understand the emotion.  There’s certain lines that inevitably stick out that only Genius can dissect.  That line tonight was:

I can tell that he’s asking her yes or no questions

By the way she’s shaking her head

From left to right, then up and down

Then left to right again

during “Skeleton.”  The audience lit up the same way they had for “Your Graduation” during “Twin Size Mattress” at the end of the set, before Sella mentioned “We’re a band called The Front Bottoms.  Tell all your friends about us.”

Every time Brand New plays now, it is truly something special.  As the band have all but confirmed that their break up in 2018 is inevitable, fans flock to see the Long Island band wherever they play.  I drove an hour for this show.  I had friends from Long Island who traveled three.  I even spotted a Virginia license plate in the parking lot, which is odd since the band plays Fairfax near the end of the tour.  Once the band announced that they would play The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me in full, this tour became all the more interesting.  If Brand New is the Led Zeppelin of emo, then Devil and God is Zeppelin IV.  “Jesus” is one of the best known rock songs of the past fifteen years.  “Limousine” may be the best song Brand New has ever composed.  Devil and God if often cited as Brand New’s best album by fans, and seeing the album performed straight through is always an occasion to be cherished.  I should preface the rest of this by mentioning that this is the second time I’ve seen Brand New in four months, having caught them at Madison Square Garden with Modest Mouse.  The MSG gig was my first time seeing Brand New, and since the breakup is imminent, I’m now making up for lost time.

The switch from the somewhat silly and upbeat Modern Baseball and Front Bottoms to the deathly serious Brand New was truly strange.  While these bands all play the same genre of rock, the posture with which it is presented is starkly different.  Jesse Lacey is not a chatty frontman.  There aren’t any laughs to be had during a Brand New set, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Brand New are nothing like any other pop-punk or emo band.  They’re a force to be reckoned with and as serious as a heart attack in an oft-mocked genre.  Their set in Wallingford only further reaffirmed this.

Brand New played two songs that were absent from the show at The Garden, Deja Entendu’s “I Will Play My Game Beneath the Spin Light” and the new “I am a Nightmare.”  Unfortunately, none of the Daisy standards such as “At the Bottom” or “Gasoline” were played.  Ending the first set with “Play Crack the Sky” was a nice touch adding the lyric “For two more years now” before Vin Accardi entered the stage to sing harmonies.  Some more popular songs were missing, but everything played was eaten up by the crowd before a short break.

The first three songs on The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me are staples of Brand New’s setlist.  While it was great to hear the 1-2-3 punch of “Sowing Season,” “Millstone” and “Jesus,” it sent chills through the audience as red lasers soaked the stage, and Lacey uttered, “Degausser, baby.”  When the band really explodes on songs like “Limousine” or “Not the Sun,” it’s hard to not think you’re watching a metal band.  Accardi and Lacey can both shred, and the dual drummers certainly brings a heavy backbone to the rhythm section.

As the set drew to the end, an acoustic guitar was brought out for “Handcuffs,” which suits the end of the album but not the end of a show.  Ending with “Untitled” was a wise move, since it let the band jam on the main riff to “Jesus” as Accardi sat stage right.  Lacey thanked the audience for the past ten and fifteen years before exiting, and the “2000-2018” epigraph adorned the stage.

While the number of Brand New shows is finite, nights like this in Wallingford are celebratory.  There seems to be promise of a new Brand New album, but since they’re unpredictable, we may never see a fifth LP.  Regardless of where the band goes, everyone will remember this night in Connecticut.