Music Review: Science Fiction
“I had this dream early this morning…”
After a disembodied narrator explains the origin of these audio recordings of a woman at a strange convention or business meeting talking about dreams and strange people, we enter into a record that fans have been anticipating since around 2010. These are the typical antics of Brand New since they released their iconic album, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, in 2006 which marked their shift from a harder-edged pop punk sound to an uber-introspective post-hardcore sound. Between it and Daisy, we saw Jesse Lacey move from merely a lead singer to a mythological entity of human proportions. Brand New’s output and Lacey’s public declarations became such that fans were left hanging on the edge of a cliff. They always felt like a band that was too good to stick around very long and quitting has been on their breath for a few years now.
Science Fiction comes as a final message to the world as their end becomes more likely, according to the band. As final messages go, this is something akin to Revelation: a lot of different interpretations, imagery, and hermeneutics that could be used to decipher its meaning. Everything from mentioning wanting to be a heretic when he grows up to speaking a secret name that could heal him to raising his son to be a righteous man. This is pointedly religious language that has definite ties to Judaism and Christianity and Lacey is using it to find his way through a world that feels too complex and multifaceted to be explained by any singular man-made system.
In the milieu of the religious ambiguities is a seething loss and grief that has slithered through their last three albums. There is an anger at the lack of material proof around God’s intervention in death, decay, broken relationships, broken societies, and depression. And as someone whose faith is often more defined by the shape of his doubt than the strength of his will, these lyrics are a balm for Gilead to me. I’m not alone in my frustrations. While I, ultimately, reject Lacey and co.’s solutions, or lack thereof, I understand the character of their lament and lament is something that Americans no longer understand. A death can’t just be a death, an image-bearer of God taken. It has to be political, or agenda-driven, or any other human-driven construction of meaning.
We need eyes to see, repent, lament and long. And it is exactly these things I find in the music of Brand New, at least since Devil/God, and I appreciate that they are willing to go to those places. I wish there was more hope, but sometimes I think we need to stew a little more in the discomfort of the Saturday in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Most of our lives are spent ignoring the dread when maybe we should acknowledge it, lean in and trust God will bring us back from the ledge.
Science Fiction, while being less consistent and cohesive as their last two albums, finds their greatest emotional resonance and it hits those existential notes more decisively than anything that has come before it. Even its name is a recognition of the ambiguities inherent in what science is actually able to explain to us about existence. Sometimes scientific facts and evidence don’t give us the explanations we need. They are, in fact, fictions that falter in the wake of everyday life. Meaning takes something bigger than ourselves, something more than merely explaining our physical surroundings. Brand New strikes that chord. They understand that facts don’t soothe the soul, they don’t keep us living past that dark night of the soul. So the album asks, ultimately, what does? And the lack of answer speaks to a too human reality, instead of the hope that we trust in.
Music that captures that is invaluable. Brand New started out as a band I simply grew to like because they toured with one of my favorite bands, Thrice, to a band that has grown in importance since. They speak to the hopelessness, doubt, and depression I feel so that I can seek out hope in something bigger than myself. Something that came down and scraped the pavement to meet me in the midst of it all. He’s there, haunting Brand New’s music as well, whether they recognize it or not. For he cannot be brought low.