Brand New’s fifth album stands as a monument to their gradual evolution. It is a wise and vulnerable conclusion for a rock band who was crucial in shaping a scene, a sound, and many emotions.
The eight years of psychotic speculation ahead of Brand New’s forever-delayed “LP5” did more for the band’s legacy than topping Deja Entendu or The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me ever could. This fan fervor lent the album a mythical status typically granted to someone who died or disappeared. Objectively, it’s been 14 years since “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” peaked at No. 37 on Billboard’s Alternative chart, eight since Daisy, their most recent and least loved studio album, and they’ve toured both clubs and festivals regularly in the time since. The excitement surrounding Science Fiction now that it has arrived is faintly tempered by the thudding finality of it all: “#thisIsTheLastOne” and the “Brand New 2000 – 2018” t-shirts are a statement of fact. But to put it in his own words, “LP5” was a millstone around Jesse Lacey’s neck. Science Fiction turns it into a monument.
As they’ve done throughout their two decades, Brand New defy expectations to a degree that can make even their most beloved past work feel short-sighted. If the streamlined pop-punk throwback singles “I Am a Nightmare” and “Mene” were eventually bundled into Science Fiction, it might’ve been the equivalent of that oft-fantasized Radiohead album where they returned to The Bends; a satisfying capitulation to fans who refused to evolve along with the band. Instead, from its opening invocation of burning witches, Science Fiction is most similar to A Moon Shaped Pool: We’ve never heard this band be this quiet or this gracious about aging. And it’s unnerving because an infamously inscrutable frontman drops his defenses and finally becomes vulnerable, like he knows this might very well be the last time he gets the chance.
Lacey’s long-lasting aversion to talking about himself and his music is completely at odds with the band’s most popular work—his logorrheic lyrics inspired thousands of LiveJournal status updates lost to the digital dustbin of history, only to be salvaged decades later at jam-packed Emo Nights across the country. Given that 2003’s Deja Entendu was essentially a concept record about Brand New’s conflict with modest fame, how much could we trust Science Fiction if Lacey hadn’t mentioned the rise in expectations during his transformation from Warped Tour pin-up to musical prophet? “Got my messiah impression, I think I got it nailed down,” Lacey sarcastically self-harmonizes during the one song that evokes Deja Entendu in both shout-along catharsis and Brand New meta-criticism. The real punchline, though, is the chorus: “I’ve got a positive message, sometimes I can’t get it out.” Sure, if we could all constantly radiate love for everyone and shrug off our demons, maybe Brand New wouldn’t need to exist. But Lacey was built to fight through all this to the bitter end.
Science Fiction doesn’t provide much joy beyond…