Brand New’s Great Would-Be Swan Song ‘Science Fiction’ Is The Emo ‘Abbey Road’

Cultural Critic
08.23.17 11 Comments

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Scarcity is usually beneficial for artists in any genre, but it’s been especially fruitful for the foundational bands of emo. From the very beginning of the scene — in which short-lived, instantly mythic groups like Rites Of Spring and Embrace set the pace for melodic post-hardcore in the mid-’80s — emo has celebrated bands that flamed out after releasing just a handful of records. The ’90s were a boom time for such groups: Sunny Day Real Estate, Jawbreaker, The Promise Ring, Braid, Mineral, Texas Is The Reason, and American Football all had relatively brief careers, either because they were inherently combustible units or because they surmised that being a fleeting proposition might make for a better legacy.

Inevitably, nearly all of those bands were lured back in the ’10s for one-off festival gigs, reunion tours, and even comeback albums. But breaking up remains the wisest decision a budding emo legend can make, as it imbues every album, 7-inch, interview, and concert bootleg with added layers of significance, both intentional and imagined.

Perhaps no band has benefited more from this reflexive lionization of emo’s erratic icons than Brand New, one of the scene’s most beloved groups of the ’00s. The Long Island quartet’s evolution over the course of the decade was unique — they started out as a conventional pop-punk act on 2001’s Your Favorite Weapon, developed a penchant for high melodrama and snarky pop culture references on 2003’s Deja Entendu, took a stab at creating an arty alt-rock masterwork with 2006’s The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me, and stared down encroaching adulthood on 2009’s Daisy. And then … Brand New essentially fell off the radar.

Notoriously press-shy even in its prime, Brand New never officially broke up, though in the ’10s they emerged only for the occasional tour or low-key single. And yet Brand New is more popular than ever. In 2016, Brand New co-headlined a concert at Madison Square Garden with Modest Mouse, fulfilling an early ambition of Brand New’s primary singer-songwriter, Jesse Lacey. At the show, the band sold tour shirts implying that Brand New would end in 2018. Not since NBC’s botched hand-off of The Tonight Show from Jay Leno to Conan O’Brien have retirement plans been telegraphed so far in advance. But the gesture only increased anticipation for Brand New’s fifth, and perhaps, final LP, Science Fiction, which finally dropped on Friday and is expected to top the album charts this week.

While the members of Brand New have generally avoided interviews in recent years, Science Fiction suggests that they’ve paid attention to how the mythos surrounding their band has deepened and intensified. And Brand New has responded with an album that’s exactly as dense, self-absorbed, and thrilling as their following demands.

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