Brand New Science Fiction

Grade: A-

It was 2006 when Brand New released their landmark record, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside of Me, an astonishing departure for a band that had been caught up in the emo-pop saturation blender. Their first two records showed signs of brilliance, but their closest relatives were bands like Blink-182 and Taking Back Sunday. Devil and God was sparse, brutal and entirely unforgettable.

Like so many bands who have wandered into groundbreaking territory, the next move was a tough one. Their follow up, Daisy, was difficult at its best and downright unlistenable at its worst. The guitars fed back violently, and the vocal mics sound like they were set up in the wrong room. In short, the record sounded lousy. Soon after, the band vanished. It’s been eight years since Daisy, with nothing to show but a few throwaway singles and several broken promises. They seemed destined to be a band that shined brightly and burned out quickly. So when a full-length, fully realized, really good new record came out this week, it was a stunner.

Science Fiction is the sound of a band returning home, finally comfortable in their own skin. It’s thoroughly listenable and the production, though still fairly spartan, is much warmer. “Can’t Get Out” has a mean chorus that hints at In Utero-era Nirvana. “No Control,” has deadpan, Pavement-like vocals and a moody as hell chorus. “137” has the most face melting chorus the band has ever recorded. And while Brand New has always seemed pretty down in the dumps, the track “451” comes dangerously close to the band sounding like they are having fun.

Brand New does sometimes wear their beloved influences a little too closely. “In the Water” sounds awfully similar to Pearl Jam’s “Immortality,” and “Same Logic/Teeth” is so blatantly Modest Mouse inspired, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a cover. But even the derivative songs are good songs. There’s not an obvious track to skip on the entire record. They close with the lovely “Batter Up,” and if this is truly the end of the road for Brand New, it’s the farewell we have long deserved.

Pvris All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell

Grade: B+

Pop music frequently gets a bad rap. In response to all of the summer radio songs you will hear, probably against your will, there are artists who are stretching the parameters of pop. Pvris has joined the ranks of these ambitious types. Their newest release, All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell, is packed with stormy hooks and an electro-rock aggression while maintaining a wild, unpredictable air.

Pvris (pronounced Paris), is fronted by powerhouse vocalist Lynn Gunn. She combines brooding melodies with flawless phrasing, always seeming to be at ease in the pockets of these songs. Gunn’s also got pipes to spare. These would be effective songs if she had half the voice, but when she lets it rip, there’s a sudden fury.

There are a few tracks on All We Know that sound like number-one singles in an alternate reality. The album’s best track is “What’s Wrong,” a blistering song tailor made for radio, but with such emotional prowess, it would tower over anything currently on the Top 40. “Anything Else” is propelled by thunderous drums cranked to eleven in the mix. “Walk Alone” has a more R&B influence and is easy to imagine reverberating off the walls of a packed club.

Pvris makes hooks sound so easy, they could probably phone it in on the second half of the record and get away with it, but the band is more complex than that. “Winter” has the breathy atmosphere of melodic rock bands like Copeland and Lydia. The sleeper on the record is “Separate,” a song with haunting space with Gunn pouring her heart out into the void.

It’s fun to imagine a band like Pvris being huge, but maybe that would defeat the purpose. Maybe they aren’t supposed to be the band you hear constantly, but they’re great at being the remedy, the band you play to get that other song out of your head.

Hammock Mysterium

Grade: A-

Is there a ceiling on beauty? Can a band cap out on the amount of loveliness they fit into a record? Hammock, the southern ambient duo of Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson, seem very interested in finding out. Their latest, Mysterium, is an hour-long meditation, delicately and confidently layered with epic swells of choral arrangement, strings, piano and oceans of space.

For a band that rarely has traditional vocals or lyrics, their songs always feel very subject oriented. The album was inspired by the tragic death of Byrd’s young nephew, and is dedicated to his sister. It doesn’t need a single liner note, however, to know the album is a courageous examination of grief. Every wave of cello sounds like loss.

What’s most fascinating about Hammock’s music is how close a space the sorrow and a blinding sense of joy seem to inhabit. The Budapest Art Choir ebb and flow throughout the album, and the high notes are a counterpoint to the grief. The peaks and valleys are not only great, but so intertwined they can sometimes be felt simultaneously. The first two tracks, “Now and Not Yet” and “Mysterium,” could have been a two-track EP and felt like a complete work. But Byrd and Thompson have nine more tracks to go, all full of the same master touch.

What the album is not full of is beats. With the exception of the last track, it’s a nearly percussion-free record, and by the seventh track, the songs are starting to blend together. It’s silly to think an album of this magnitude would be bettered by a drummer of all things, but it does make for a much more challenging listen. The band’s last record, Everything and Nothing (2016), was about as close as they will probably ever get to pop music. Mysterium finds the duo back into the vast soundscape territory.

The last track is called “This Is Not Enough (Epilogue).” It speaks volumes to the band’s intentions. It’s clear, sometimes painfully, how much they put into this album, and yet are still left with the feeling of inadequacy. If Mysterium isn’t enough, nothing is.

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