Brand New’s Science Fiction is rooted in self-awareness. The familiar superficial teenage angst is gone, replaced with pleas for actual help and a desire to end it all. This album is technically the end for them, as they’ve stated that 2018 is their final year of existence. Frontman Jesse Lacey takes on his own demons throughout the album, while acknowledging Brand New’s role in the pop-punk genre for the last two decades. As an emo band, mental illness has never been a taboo topic. Lacey has been writing about it even before Brand New, having co-written much of fellow pop-punk band Taking Back Sunday’s early songs. Science Fiction is something else, though. After eight years of silence, this release shows that the band is tired. They are no longer screaming about lost lovers or backstabbing friends.
As someone who grew up with Brand New, I’m surprised with this album. While their earlier releases like Deja Entendu (2003) and The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me (2006) were soundtracks of my childhood, Science Fiction is the unexpected anthem of my adulthood. As it starts with “Lit Me Up,” the familiar conversational sound of therapy scratches through the speakers. I can almost visualize the ugly couch and soft lamp lighting that became the setting of most of my childhood and some of my adulthood. The deep bass sets a sullen mood, quickly shattered by the loud opening chords of “Can’t Get It Out.” The subsequent song sounds similar to their previous albums, making sure the listener knows that this is definitely still Brand New. The lyrics are what hits home. With references to “Jesus Christ” from Devil and God and Lacey directly speaking to the listener, I can’t help but to personally connect to the song. The desire to appease even if it brings you down further into the darkness: it’s incredibly relatable.
Other publications focused on comparing the album to Radiohead and Modest Mouse and mourning the death of Brand New, and they missed the big red neon sign. Science Fiction, while sonically beautiful, shouldn’t be defined by how many pedals they used or who produced it. This album hurts too much to only be looked at on the surface. Lacey begs us to talk about difficult topics like religious hypocrisy, crippling depression, and individualism. How can we listen and not discuss the reason this album took eight full years to create? It hurts to listen, and God knows how hard it must have been to write these words down.
Listening all the way through, though, was not a simple task. The closer, “Batter Up,” is an eight minute solemn melody with heartbreaking lyrics that make me feel like I’m falling through my bed. Lacey chose his words carefully, “It’s never going to stop / Batter up,” for he continues to fight both his illness and the industry because he doesn’t have a choice anymore. Known (mostly) affectionately as a “downer band,” Brand New cements their reputation with this album. The sardonic fun has transformed into genuine suffering. Though there aren’t as many obvious candidates for Emo Night singalongs as their previous albums, Brand New’s maturity is much more prominent in this release, in both the lyrics and the more complex instrumentals.
Brand New helped to justify my need for isolation. The midpoint “Same Logic/Teeth” finishes with an outsider’s narrative of the guilt Lacey feels for isolating himself from the people who care for him: “Boy, we gave you every opportunity / Boy we gave our hands to get you off your knees / Boy sat at our table and ate everything / You say that you’re still hungry / Then bite the plates and break your teeth.” While it’s obvious that this tactic is unhealthy, when you believe that all you are capable of doing is shutting off your phone, crawling into bed for hours, and listening to empathetic music to try to drown out the insistent debilitating chatter of your mind instead of asking for help, then you will disconnect.
With the heavy weight of instrumentals throughout the album, it’s easy to disassociate while listening. The old-school therapy recordings and scratchy ambiguous record samples only exist to distort reality. Brand New successfully created an album that can hold you in a state of suspended despondency for the hour it runs, as it was meant to be listened, from start to finish. Lyrics full of regret and self-reflection — and relief as the end looms — screamed or whispered, are the poetry of a man who is tired of fighting. Though he’s been reluctant to figure out “what comes after,” he’s accepted that it’s his time to know.
In a writer’s block moment, I posted a day-long poll on Twitter asking which Brand New album connected with the public the most. No surprise, Deja Entendu won. Whether it was the timing of the release (at peak teen angst stage of those my age) or the popularity (considered one of the greatest albums of the decade and in the emo genre), it obviously resonated with its intended demographic. Science Fiction is different in that it wasn’t released for the listener. It was released for the band to finally “get it out.” The evidence lies in the fact that the advertising was almost non-existent. They surprise-released it as 500 one-track CDs to whoever pre-ordered, after teasing and then delaying an “LP5” for frustratingly long, even posting leaks online. After eight years of creative, forced depressive writing, this serves as their open and last diary entry. Everything bottled up since its conception has been released and they don’t care who approves. As their fifth and final album, Science Fiction serves as Brand New’s last will and testament.