Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Album Review: Science Fiction by Brand New (by Robyn Pierce)

So, it’s happened. Brand New have seemingly miraculously, with almost no warning, released a new full-length album. Perhaps ‘released’ isn’t the right word. After the band initially announced a very limited edition vinyl pre-order for the album (at quite a hefty price) to be ‘shipped in October’, information about the title and album art was sent to those fans who were able to order it, and not long after that Brand New’s latest record, Science Fiction, was leaked online. A few days later, it appeared legitimately on Apple Music and other streaming platforms. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that fans all over the world lost their minds. The sudden announcement, the limited vinyl, the leak – it all worked to hype up this release, and the internet has been buzzing. Brand New is no stranger to hype and they have legions of devoted fans. I should come right out and say that I am one of ‘those’ fans who will probably always love Deja Entendu the most and didn’t quite ‘get’ Daisy on the first listen (although I did loop At the Bottom for an entire afternoon). Nevertheless, I have come to really enjoy everything that Brand New has produced up until this point – because they really are such a unique and captivating band, and I was massively excited to listen to this album the moment it was announced.

In a similar fashion to Daisy, Science Fiction opens with an audio clip before getting into the first track on the album, ‘Lit Me Up’. The general mood of this record is sinister, desolate and other-wordly – the ‘real’ world often seems too terrible to actually exist, while attempts to escape are still plagued by inauthenticity. Despite these surrealist overtones, the subject matter of Science Fiction seems deeply personal, and this is set up nicely at the beginning with a clip recounting a woman’s dream during ‘intensive individual therapy’. Her voice becomes distorted as it speaks over a soft, eerie backtrack (not recommended for nights at home on your own). In a subtle layering of echo, reverb and fuzz, this atmosphere builds until Lacey’s first vocals finally ring out. The way in which the band gradually builds the sounds in this song is beautiful. It’s a slower start than I was expecting, but the deep groove is undeniably seductive. The second track, ‘Can’t Get Out’, smacks heavily of Deja – both in terms of the guitar tone and the song structure, which is a nice surprise. ‘Waste’ maintains the unsettling tone of the album by beginning with a woman’s scream and then sliding down into another groove-heavy track. It has all of the fuzzed, glistening guitar that you’d expect from Brand New (especially as found on Daisy), but here it is delicately spun and has a slight bluesy flavour. ‘Could Never Be Heaven’ also offers some really intoxicating, intricate guitar, but with a melancholic edge. The lyrics speak about a sense of drowning, of lingering on feelings of loss, and disillusionment. Once again, there is an audio clip to transition between tracks. This time, it’s a man talking about social conditioning and the fallacies of ‘free will’ and ‘individuality’. ‘Same Logic/Teeth’ is another Daisy-esque track that introduces the first yelling/screaming on the album (yay!) to great effect. ‘137’ sets up another deep, pulsing groove and delivers a glorious guitar solo at the end. I had hoped for more heavy rock sections on the album by this point, but I’m not disappointed with the highly refined and haunting melodies that Science Fiction has offered so far.

‘Out of Mana’ is the first song on Science Fiction that doesn’t really remind me of another Brand New record. It’s more of a straightforward alt-rock song organised around a great central riff. Getting into track 7, it feels as though the album is slowly ramping up, with each song since ‘Same Logic/ Teeth’ delivering a little more energy, a little more dirt and edginess in the guitar. This is slowed down slightly by ‘In the Water’, which has a brooding and bluesy flavour similar to the songs that have come before, but somehow feels more fun and optimistic. We’re also treated again to some lovely instrumental guitar work before a voice clip that links directly to Daisy. Although Science Fiction does feel like an extension of Daisy in many respects, it lacks Daisy’s more emotionally explosive moments; Brand New now seem to be ruminating in thick, luxurious melodies and more complex sensations. This trend continues with the dark and slightly sadistic ‘Desert’, in which Lacey sings “Don’t come running to me when they’re coming for you”. ‘No Control’ takes Brand New back to a much more grungy sound, but with the same care and artistry that’s evident on the rest of the album. Then, the muted beginnings of a heavy rock song slowly build into an actual hard rock riff and some creepy laughter takes you into ‘451’ – unequivocally my favourite song on Science Fiction. It’s a super fun, danceable grunge banger with some face-melting guitar thrown in for good measure. ‘Batter Up’ closes the album beautifully with some gently looping guitar that steadily soothes your mind and leaves you feeling calm and happy.

Once I reached the end of Science Fiction, I still couldn’t help wishing that it had a few more hard rock tracks despite the really wonderful ways in which the album moves between alt-rock grooves, acoustic melodies, intricate soundscapes, and ripping solos. Brand New have done an amazing job crafting an album that blends together all of these elements and which feels like a complete listening experience. Putting on Science Fiction feels like slipping into a distorted reality, with all the Brand New trademarks that you’d want and expect but in a more somber guise. I don’t think I love it as much as many other devoted fans, but I have a feeling this album is going to grow on me.

Stream and download Science Fiction here:

Like Brand New here:

This review was written by Robyn Pierce.

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