Brand New Credit: Brandon Sloter

This year only six rock albums have topped the Billboard 200 (as of press time, anyway). Two were by aging alt-rock titans (Foo Fighters and Linkin Park) and three were by aging aughties “indie-rockers” working with major-label budgets (LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, and the Killers). The sixth album was the recently released Science Fiction by Brand New, a band that has been thriving on the fringe of the mainstream since 2000. They’ve aged as much as any of the aforementioned groups, but have done so with a verve and intellect that’s kept them from going stale. After perfecting their volatile concoction of saccharine pop-punk and gnashed-teeth emo with 2003’s Deja Entendu, the Long Island band went wide-screen in 2006 with the grunge-inflected The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me, showcasing a more grand, drawn-out side to their songwriting than before. Since then Brand New have spurned the spotlight, doing away with routine interviews and preferring to communicate veiled news through unusual channels; when the group started selling T-shirts with the simple caption “Brand New 2000-2018” last summer, sites such as Billboard and, um, Mashable questioned whether it was a sign that the band would soon call it quits (the answer still remains to be seen). Brand New’s enigmatic image has engendered the kind of fandom that turns listeners into gumshoes, and the group have encouraged and even instigated some of the fun: In mid-August they posted a “very limited vinyl” preorder for their then-untitled fifth album, and a couple days later the 500 fans who made the purchase received a one-track CD-R with what was presumed to be the new full-length. As fans cobbled together the clues to figure out what they had on their hands, Brand New officially released Science Fiction through their independent label, Procrastinate! Music Traitors. The songs on the album feel enormous, as if I could focus on just one and get lost in the crevasses and shape of a particular passage only to find after repeated listens that it still has plenty of mysteries to unfold. The tender coda to “Out of Mana” is pointedly bare, with front man Jesse Lacey singing at a volume just above a whisper, and crisp production that makes the strings of an acoustic guitar ring as loudly when brushed by fingertips as when strummed. I could listen to an entire album that follows this trajectory—a little somber, a little wistful, a whole lot yearning—but given the coda’s unique spirit, it feels special because it’s over so quickly.   v