I know a few diehard Brand New
fans who felt tortured (more so than usual) by the steady promise, but longtime delay, of Science Fiction
. It is, in turn, a tortured album, painstakingly constructed and brimming with frustration and reluctance, the kind of angst all emo bands have aspired to produce and inspire in their listeners. But Brand New might be outgrowing its emo label--there are a few tracks that harken more to folk and country than anything happening in emo rock right now. On their previous albums, Brand New balanced on the edge between emo and indie, but if this were their first album, I don't think anyone would toss the emo label at them. There's nothing like "Vices", the very screamy first song on their 2009 album Daisy
. When lead vocalist Jesse Lacey raises his voice, it's at appropriately emotionally heightened intervals in the songs, and nowhere near as jarring as in Daisy
. Whether or not that makes this a more "mature" album, I don't think I could say. And while there are no odes to the joys of our current political climate on Science Fiction
, there is political commentary that attempts to scale issues more complicated that adolescent indignation.
Brand New's influences on Daisy
ran the gamut--from shoegaze to metal. In Science Fiction
's "Can't Get It Out", Brand New could be mistaken for any number of 90s grunge bands, down to the content of the lyrics, and there's something very folksy about the acoustic chords and--is that harmonica?--in "In the Water." They've created another album that challenges convention, without losing their unique sound.
In "Desert" the band assumes the persona of a paranoid homophobe ushering in a hopeless era of exclusion. Rather than screamo, the chorus ("Don't come runnin' to me / When they're coming for you / Don't come runnin' to me / When they come gunnin' for you) is repeated in a falsely sweet falsetto.
Mental illness and grief are frequently discussed in the lyrics and reflected in up-and-down thralls of the guitars and drums of this album. "No Control" is not a lyrically complex track, but it makes sense that it isn't. When confronted with grief and loss, it can be difficult to think in anything other than a loop of regrets and platitudes. Clearly, the members of this band aren't selling angst to teenagers anymore (if they ever were). They have felt, dealt with, and written an album about feelings of hopelessness.
So maybe Brand New has "matured"--or maybe emo music is more appropriate now than at the height of its popularity in the 00s. Maybe the long wait for this album was meant to be. This has been a memorably messed-up summer. It does feel like the world is hurtling towards a world we've only seen in science fiction, and not the friendly, galaxy-exploring kind of science fiction where everyone respects each other. It's possible that Brand New is one of many artists who are writing and releasing music about the distinct feeling frustration in America.