It’s almost been a week since Brand New presented their newest material at KROQ’s High/Low Fest. Not only did they debut songs from their fifth studio album, Science Fiction, they unveiled a new aesthetic in their performance that conveys their maturity and self-awareness in remarkable, new ways.
I’ve provided a couple songs for easy access at the end of the post but you can stream their full discography on Spotify. Or if you feel so inspired, for the love of god, buy it!!!
BRAND NEW, known for their flowered mic stands and “Jesus Christ” if nothing else, has a reputation for being reclusive, keeping their distance from media, fans, record labels, you name it. Frontman, Jesse Lacey, has mentioned often in interviews that he writes as a kind of personal therapy, regardless of how it will be received by his fans. The band is aware of this reputation and incorporated their concern for creative privacy into their live performance at last week’s festival.
I will try to describe this as best I can.
Imagine two large LED screens, one behind the band as usual, and a second one in between the band and the audience.
The band is fundamentally separated from their audience. It’s almost as if they aren’t performing for anyone in particular – definitely not for the thousands of fans standing twenty feet away.
The screen is a physical and metaphorical boundary that preserves their privacy and space as musicians and humans.
These men are in their own world and we have the privilege to stand next to it, listen and watch.
Aaaand when they’re good and ready – after they’ve thoroughly blown our minds and broken our hearts by treating us to a sampling of their most recent works, the screen rises and the nostalgia party begins.
Jaws Theme Swimming, Sowing Season (Yeah), You Won’t Know, I Will Play my Game Beneath the Spin Light.
Banger. After. Banger.
All the while Brand New is using this time to experiment with depth and atmosphere in their set design. Though the second screen is not obstructing our view anymore, it has shifted the perspective of the audience by splitting the image projected and adding new dimension to a traditionally flat surface. What would normally be a simple graphic of a time lapsed night sky or a lightning storm is now more dramatic, emotional. It’s more theatrical than your standard light show because it is more concerned with constructing a particular scene and mood, giving the performance a music video quality.
What makes this all the more meaningful is the fact that this may be the final evolution of Brand New. *sigh*
Here’s some background:
The band announced last year, 2016, that they will be breaking up/retiring in 2018 and they’ve been teasing new material for about as long. Personally, I didn’t know what to expect because their single releases like “I am a Nightmare” and the Mene EP, felt like a failed experiment at a mainstream sound. They didn’t sit well with me. Though “Out of Range” has a special place in my heart (right next to Modest Mouse’s earliest albums).
So, in other words, I was worried.
Daisy by most accounts was a dud, and from there fans wanted Brand New to change their sound back to an earlier era. Everyone had a favorite album, because every album explored a different version of the band. Whether you enjoyed the low-fi pop punk of Your Favorite Weapon or hi-fi pop punk of Deja Entendu, or the much darker post-grunge, emo extravaganza that was TDAGARIM, Brand New had a sound and an aesthetic that was raw above all else, and whatever sound or mood you were in Brand New was going to be as authentic as you.
Thankfully, to my own pleasant surprise Science Fiction, has taken the best parts of each previous album, past experiments into artistic creation, and cooked up something heartbreakingly beautiful. For fans new and old, Brand New provided a relatively easy to digest sound that incorporated pieces of their past selves. This album captures a peace that reflects an artistic vision that is Brand New in its most essential form. It feels like they have finally arrived. Which is evidenced by their first Billboard #1 appearance ever.
Though, after speaking with some folks at High/Low about their relationship with Brand New’s music, I found that a common point mentioned was that Science Fiction doesn’t sound like other Brand New stuff. What I find really interesting is that I hear references to every other album in their discography. The most blatant example of this is heard on “In the Water,” where they use the exact same sample from Daisy’s “Daisy”. Interestingly enough, if there’s an album I think they pull from the most it would be Daisy — their worst received album. I encourage you to listen to both albums back to back to see what I’m getting at and then tell me what you think.
In any case, the similarities show a true artistic progression. These men care about their craft and have consistently for almost twenty years.
For example, though TDAGARIM is what I consider to be their best album, it is not as refined or controlled as their new material. Not to say that being in control was the point in early albums. There is surely evidence that suggests that a certain amount of flailing was necessary. Overall, I think Science Fiction reflects their maturity as artists and grown-ass adults; knowing what layers and textures will work best to convey an irreverent nostalgia. Knowing when to be loud, when to be sarcastic, when to be tender. It’s bittersweet and achy, and most of all relatively calm compared to everything prior.
To me this album is the perfect goodbye from a group of devoted, inventive, genuine musicians.