Why You Have to See ‘The End of the F***ing World’

I punched my dad in the face and stole his car. That seemed like a good place to start”. So says seventeen-year old psychopath James (Alex Lawther), in the first episode of UK drama/comedy The End of the F***ing World, which made its international debut on Netflix this past month. James is a troubled child with a traumatic past, and in his spare time he sneaks off into the woods to murder cats, dogs, and butterflies. He is planning to murder his first human target when he meets Alyssa (Jessica Barden), a brash and outwardly confident young girl at his school who he pretends to fall in love with.

Things don’t quite go according to plan, and James’ scheme is put on hold when he and Alyssa decide to leave town in his dad’s car – but not before delivering the unfortunate man a punch to the face. This sets in motion a darkly comic and wildly unpredictable journey, brought to life by the fantastic acting of Barden and Lawther in the lead roles. Straight-faced and socially inept James is the perfect foil to Alyssa, whose fiery personality is a front for a lot of vulnerability and pain.

It quickly becomes clear that The End of the F***ing World is more than just a comedy with a dark sense of humour. As the series progresses, it tackles delicate topics like mental health, parental role models, masculinity and domestic abuse. But it does so very subtly, and never loses its ability to make us laugh out loud. In fact, some of the shows funniest moments are those that arise out of the bleakest situations: in a later episode, we are introduced to local drug dealer Johnny, who only ever wears shorts. “What did you wear to your ma’s funeral, Johnny?’ someone asks him. ‘Black shorts’, he replies.

The show’s production is fantastic all around, too. Its editing is snappy and stylish, cutting quickly between scenes and jumping backwards and forwards in time. The soundtrack features plenty of memorable songs, and a score put together by Graham Coxon of Blur. And the cinematography is gorgeous, particularly in the later episodes, which feature long shots of desolate, windswept beaches and sunsets.

The End of the F***ing World performs a deft balancing act between comedy and tragedy, making us laugh in order to get us thinking about some important and under-explored issues. It had me completely hooked for the entirety of its short duration, and it’s shocking ending left me wanting more. Simply put: The End of the F***ing World is one of the best shows to come out of the UK in some time, and wider international release on Netflix means you have no excuse not to check it out.

Confessions of an English Backpacker in Australia

Hello everyone. There hasn’t been a huge amount of content on the Wooden Man through January, because I’ve been busy preparing for my trip to India. I’ve now arrived in Kolkata and started my journalism internship at the Telegraph, so you can expect to start seeing regular content again. I’ll be posting most (if not all) of the pieces I write for the Telegraph on The Wooden Man, starting with a travel piece about my trip to Australia last year, which you can find below. Thanks for reading!

There are a lot of ways to swear in Australia. This was one of the first things I learned about the country, having newly arrived in Melbourne after a 26 hour flight from London, Heathrow. My friend and I were sat in a bar in the city’s north district with an Aussie bloke named Patrick, who’d had a few drinks and was now explaining, in great detail, the many ways you can swear in Aussie slang, and the different meanings behind each one.

As introductions go, it was certainly unique. We were struggling to pay attention, having spent all of the last two days on planes, trains and buses. When we arrived at our hostel (ambitiously titled The Mansion), I had slept for fourteen straight hours under the effects of jetlag and extreme tiredness. And now I was being delivered a drunken lecture in profanity by a man I could hardly understand.

My friend and I had decided, quite impulsively, to move to Australia for a year on a working holiday visa. I quit my job in Bristol and we flew out at the end of summer, arriving at the start of September. The city of Melbourne was our starting point: a fashionable and multi-cultural melting pot of Asian, European and Australian.

It might have been 10,500 miles away from London, but the second lesson I learned in Australia is that the world can sometimes be a very small place. While in Melbourne, I received a message from a friend I lived with at university, who told me he was working in Tasmania and coming to Melbourne that weekend to do some sightseeing. By complete chance, he had booked to stay in the exact same hostel we had, on the exact same floor, in a room three doors down from ours. The universe can be a crazy, mystical thing sometimes.

In our first week in Melbourne, my friend and I ended up at a hippy commune. A small group of us, based on a tip from someone at the hostel, made the long walk through the city’s Fitzroy district, in search of a restaurant that was rumoured to serve food on a pay-as-you-wish basis. When we got there, following a trail of wild lemurs through dark suburban streets, we were served Sri Lankan pancakes by dreadlocked staff wearing tie-dye t-shirts, as psychedelic New Age music played on the speakers overhead. That was an experience I won’t soon forget.

We stayed, for most of our trip, in hostels. There are plenty of horror stories about hostels, some of which I experienced first-hand. In one, there was a mysterious red stain on my bedsheets, which could have been either blood or ketchup. In another, an entire colony of ants emerged from out of the plughole at the same moment I decided to take a shower. And in another still, a backpacker on the same floor as ours consumed some illicit substances, then started screaming as he hallucinated that the hostel staff were demons with horse heads.

Generally, though, hostels are a fun and cheap way to live if you don’t mind the lack of privacy. Here are a few tips for anyone planning to stay in one: first of all, avoid that guy in every hostel who sits on the stairs and badly plays the guitar, in an attempt to impress the ladies. Second, don’t let yourself be bullied by dishonest hostel owners and landlords – the majority are very friendly, but there are some who try to take advantage of travelers who don’t speak the native language well, and don’t stand up for themselves.

And lastly, be aware of the person who sneaks into the communal kitchen and steals any food that isn’t padlocked shut. One anonymous backpacker in Brisbane became my mortal nemesis, after he/she repeatedly stole the strawberry jam (and nothing else) out of my fridge bag, forcing me to leave a very sternly worded note (that’s about as angry as the British get).

I mentioned already one stroke of fate. But there was another coincidence later in our trip, when my friend and I moved to the city of Sydney. The apartment we rented here was home to an Indian man by the name of Sheldon, who was originally from Goa but had moved to Australia to study. When we told him we were English, he said that he used to live in England, in a little town by the name of Chippenham. My friend and I stared at each other in disbelief – Chippenham is the very same small town both of us live in, and Sheldon had lived there for a year when we were in school. We’d probably walked right past him.

Sydney itself is a sight that has to be seen at least once: the grandeur of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, the hustle and bustle of George Street, the restaurants and bars shining under the coloured lights of Darling Harbour. I spent New Years Eve in the Botanical Gardens, queueing all day to get a view of the bridge and the spectacular fireworks show that brought in the New Year. That was a fantastic way to welcome 2017.

The nightlife, too, is very colourful. Sydney’s Ivy Bar is worth the cost of entry: an enormous complex spread out over two buildings, each with multiple stories where you can buy fancy cocktails, Australian beers and just about any other alcoholic beverage imaginable. The rooftop bar even features an open air swimming pool, if you fancy taking a dip while you sip.

The only downside is the cost. Everything in Sydney is very expensive, from the $15 pint of beer I spotted on a restaurant menu to the cost of a hostel, which can be as high as $60 a night. That’s about three times as much as you can expect to pay in other parts of Australia, and five times what you might pay in another country. For anyone thinking of making the trip, make sure you book accommodation far in advance: in Sydney, every hostel in the city will be booked a week ahead.

My favourite place in Australia, though, and the one I would recommend above all others, is Brisbane. Brisbane is a gorgeous city, one which seems to be in a perpetual state of tropical summer. The streets are busy but not crowded, and the views along Eagle Street Pier, which follows the river from the city center through the Botanical Gardens and beyond, are magical. If you take this path all the way down the river, the Brisbane River Walk is a hidden treasure – a running/cycle path built right on top of the river, which takes you right alongside the shining lights of Story Bridge.

Running and cycling are a huge part of Australian culture, both in Brisbane and beyond. If you make the trip, pack a pair of running shoes and experience it firsthand. At 5pm in Brisbane, the city becomes a fluorescent explosion of runners and cyclists as everyone leaves work, allowing you to witness Australia’s famous fitness culture for yourself.

And you can’t leave the country without experiencing a proper Aussie barbeque, either. Streets Beach is a must see in Brisbane: cross over the bridge from the city center into the South Bank, and there are parks, free access swimming pools, and a huge playground for the kids, all of which feature free barbeque stations. It’s the perfect way to soak up the sun and enjoy the city views.

Wherever you go in Australia there is lots to see, and backpacking is a cheap and exciting way to experience the sights and get off the beaten path. I was sad to leave, but the year I spent there was full of stories and people that I’ll remember for many years to come. If nothing else, I learned how to swear like a proper Australian.

GAME REVIEW: Sonic Mania (Headcannon & PagodaWest Games, 2017)

https://d1vnh8mbrp67em.cloudfront.net/image/file/0/86/87620/Sonicmania.jpg

Sonic Mania is a game that understands the appeal of the Sonic series better than almost every game that it has produced in the last twenty years. What Sega seems to have missed is that Sonic was never really about platforming, or about the grating, two-dimensional furry-bait characters – those early Megadrive classics were more like moving pinball machines, at their best in the moments where you were almost in control of a rapidly moving object.

The level design in Sonic Mania nails this feeling, and is by far the game’s greatest strength. Each stage is full of clever contraptions that launch Sonic around at high speed – my personal favourite being the enormous moving gun that Sonic loads himself into like a bullet in the Mirage Saloon Zone.

Act 2 of each stage cleverly subverts the mechanics introduced in act 1: in the Oil Ocean Zone, for example, act 1 introduces pools of oozing oil that you can jump into and use as ladders, while act 2 grants you the fireball powerup, causing every pool of oil you jump in to burst into an enormous sea of spectacular pixellated flames, which slowly drain your rings.

On top of that, the multiple pathways of each stage interweave in some very clever ways, and are full of hidden secrets that reward exploration. At their best, Sonic Mania’s levels feel like a series of tightly wound contraptions intended to get you from A to B as fast as possible, while at the same time being littered with distractions that tempt you to slow things down.

Visually, the game looks a treat – the colourful presentation and high FPS all contribute to the sensory overload which classic Sonic depends on, as does the fantastic music. The developers have captured the look and feel of these games to a tee, but bring enough of their own ideas to stop it being a pure nostalgia trip.

But there are some aspects of Sonic Mania which hew too closely to the design of the original games. Things which are in fact so fucking frustrating they make me question whether I see the original three games with rose-tinted glasses.

First of all is the bosses. The bosses in Sonic Mania fluctuate wildly in difficulty, from insultingly easy (the Eggman sub in Hydrocity Zone) to stupidly difficult (the robot spider in Studiopolis zone). Often I felt that it wasn’t at all clear what I was supposed to actually do in these fights, and even when it was I still felt that the slow, floaty imprecision of Sonic’s jump was not at all suited to combat in a game of this pace.

My second problem is with rings. Rings are a bullshit system for health. The random angles at which they fly away from you after getting hit was a source of endless frustration for me while playing through Sonic Mania. If you get hit at any point while standing beside a wall or other impassable object, there is a high chance that all your rings will clip out of bounds, and be impossible to recover.

In several difficult boss fights which force you into one corner of the screen, I just felt plain cheated when I lost all the rings I had accrued throughout the stage in this way. And in almost every case, boss fights descended into a crude game of ‘get hit, scramble for the one ring I can keep hold of, and use the very lenient period of invincibility to damage you’.

After one particularly difficult boss fight caused me two or three game overs for the reasons described above, I decided to change tack. I replayed act 1 and 2 of the stage, carefully collecting 100 rings until I acquired a couple of extra lives, to give me a bit of a cushion. I was just approaching the boss, feeling prepared and ready to go, when – bang. I died to the timer, which apparently kills you if you spend any longer than ten minutes in one stage.

I turned the game off right then and there. Fuck that. I felt like I was being punished for not playing the game fast, but if Sonic Mania is a game meant to be played recklessly, then why the equally punishing and difficult boss fights?

It felt indicative of a contradiction at the heart of Sonic Mania, and one that might be at the heart of the Sonic franchise as a whole. These are games that revel in the thrill of moving at a speed beyond control, but their difficulty and structure often ask for a level of precision completely at odds with that. Ultimately, the many ways in which Sonic Mania successfully revitalizes the series only serve to highlight these frustrating inconsistencies.

7.3/10

Album of the Year 2017: The Complete List & Year in Review

Another year, another rundown of my favourite albums. It isn’t easy to write 50 record reviews in the space of a month, but that’s what I’ve done from the beginning of December to now, so thank you anybody who’s been reading. 2017 was the year I started trying to turn the Wooden Man from an internet dump of odds and ends into an active blog that I’ve been attempting to grow, and it’s exceeded my expectations so far.

My goal in April was to get it to 1000 views for the year, which I reached in mid-November. In the course of December and posting up AOTY, we hit just under 1600 views for the entirety of 2017, which is pretty sweet. I have lots more plans for 2018 and some big news to share (which many of you reading will have heard about already), but I’m going to put another post up tomorrow detailing all of that. For now, here’s my complete list of 2017, ranked #1 through #50, which was the basis for all the reviews. Clicking any album will take you to its individual post, and below the list are some thoughts about the year 2017 in music.

 

1.) Milo – Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?!?!                                               9.4
2.) Richard Dawson – PEASANT                                                                 9.2
3.) Brand New – Science Fiction                                                                 8.9
4.) Iglooghost – Neo Wax Bloom                                                               8.8
5.) Benjamin Clementine – I Tell a Fly                                                        8.8
6.) Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.                                                                      8.7
7.) Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me                                                   8.7
8.) Elder – Reflections of a Floating World                                               8.7
9.) Perfume Genius – No Shape                                                                  8.7
10.) Four Tet – New Energy                                                                          8.7
11.) Protomartyr – Relatives in Descent                                                      8.7
12.) Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun                                                                  8.6
13.) Gas – Narkopop                                                                                     8.6
14.) Algiers – The Underside of Power                                                        8.6
15.) Big K.R.I.T – 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time                                             8.6
16.) Idles – Brutalism                                                                                     8.5
17.) Angelo Badalamenti – Twin Peaks S3 Soundtrack                             8.5
18.) Jay-Z – 4:44                                                                                              8.5
19.) Slowdive – Slowdive                                                                              8.5
20.) Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights                                                        8.5
21.) Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference                                   8.5
22.) Converge – The Dusk In Us                                                                   8.5
23.) Ryuichi Sakamoto – async                                                                    8.4
24.) Rina Sawayama – RINA                                                                         8.4
25.) James Holden – The Animal Spirits                                                     8.4
26.) Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell Live                                                8.4
27.) Angles 9 – Dissapeared Behind the Sun                                              8.4
28.) King Krule – THE OOZ                                                                            8.4
29.) William Basinski – A Shadow in Time                                                  8.4
30.) Oddisee – The Iceberg                                                                            8.4
31.) The Horrors – V                                                                                         8.4
32.) Joey Bada$$ – All-Amerikkan Badass                                                   8.3
33.) Max Richter – Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works                   8.3
34.) Godflesh – Post Self                                                                                 8.3
35.) Tyler the Creator – Flower Boy                                                              8.3
36.) The National – Sleep Well Beast                                                           8.3
37.) Lorde – Melodrama                                                                                 8.2
38.) Billy Woods – Known Unknowns                                                         8.2
39.) Kelela – Take Me Apart                                                                           8.2
40.) Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins                                                                  8.2
41.) Blanck Mass – World Eater                                                                    8.2
42.) Sampha – Process                                                                                   8.2
43.) Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up                                                                           8.2
44.) Amenra – Mass VI                                                                                    8.1
45.) Various Artists – Mono No Aware                                                         8.1
46.) The XX – I See You                                                                                   8.1
47.) Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness                                                          8.0
48.) Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory                                                             8.0
49.) Alvvays – Antisocialites                                                                           8.0
50.) Brockhampton – Saturation 2                                                                8.0

 

So, 2017. The easy narrative of 2017 is the one about Trump and North Korea and Brexit, the one about impending doom and general gloom. And while I’m honestly bored of hearing that story, it is certainly true that politics was one of the biggest topics in music this year. Political music came out of every genre, from the mainstream to the underground, and some of my favourite albums came from artists with one eye on the streets.

IDLES, Joey Bada$$ and Algiers released the most overtly political records of the year, but it was everywhere you cared to look, from Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory to LCD Soundsystem’s American Dream. While I loved a lot of these albums, it’s interesting to see that my favourite records from 2017 were those that were not political at all; instead they were the records that felt like self-contained worlds, records that offered a form of imaginative escapism. File under this category the latest albums from Milo, Richard Dawson, Iglooghost, Elder and Angelo Badalamenti, all of which were stellar.

My pick for the most original album of 2017 would be a close call between Iglooghost’s Neo Wax Bloom, Benjamin Clementine’s I Tell a Fly, and Algiers The Underside of Power. All three of these albums do things I’ve never heard before in their respective genres, and were at the very cutting edge of music this year. For anyone who wants to hear something new, give these three a try.

On the whole, I would say 2017 has been a very good albeit not great year for music. Nothing except Milo came close to surpassing my favourite records of previous years, and only two albums reached a 9/10 rating. Nevertheless, the quantity of great albums released throughout the past 12 months was very high, and I was never short of amazing music to listen to.

I’d like to give a quick shoutout to Frank Ocean’s ‘Chanel’ as my favourite individual song of the year, because I tend to only write about albums and EPs on The Wooden Man. Frank has been the artist I think I’ve listened to most throughout 2017, an impressive feat considering he didn’t even put out a full length album. If I was rewriting AOTY 2016 I think it’s very likely blonde would come out on top, but that’s something to save for the list of my favourite albums of the decade, which you can expect in a few years time. Oh yes.

And that’s a wrap! Thank you everybody for tuning in to The Wooden Man in 2017, and if you check back tomorrow you can expect to find out what’s coming in 2018. I’m really excited for the year to come, and have lots of great content and ideas to share with you guys. Tell your friends, tell your Grandad, save me as a bookmark. See you next year.

 

Album of the Year 2017: #1 Milo – Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?!?!

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a1384328309_10.jpg

Number one! We made it. Drumroll please…my favourite album of 2017 is Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?!?!, the latest record from underground MC and producer Rory Ferreira, AKA Milo. Milo has been on the scene for several years now, tempering his unique brand of comic-philosophic rap music. But Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!, his fifth album, is the culmination of all his training in the hip-hop dojo.

Milo has always been an abstract and very poetic lyricist, but on some of his earlier material, particularly A Toothpaste Suburb, he sounded like he was trying too hard to impress. This is a man who would regularly namedrop philosophers and obscure authors like Schopenhauer or David Foster Wallace, but for every line that came across as inspired, another felt like it was reaching a bit too far.

On Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?!, Milo earns every allusion as he rises to the stature of mystical prophet MC, spinning mind-bending wordplay around beautiful, spacey production that brims with confidence. This is the tightest, densest, most poetic batch of lyrics I’ve heard from any rapper in years, with line after classic line that has me reaching for the rewind button.

Musically, Who Told You to Think??!?!?!?! is an atmospheric blend of jazz rap and cloud rap, with some sprinklings of boom-bap and Shabazz Palaces futurism. Each track (many of which were self-produced) reverberates with gorgeous keys, crispy drum hits and melancholy bass, always leaving plenty of space for Milo’s vocals which are placed front and centre in the mix.

This lends the album a strong sense of space and clarity, inviting the listener to pull some of Milo’s cryptic lyrics apart. Try these, from ‘Paging Mr Bill Nunn’: ‘The most understated mage / Flow monotone, how you sublimate the rage? / I be to rap what Keynes be to Locke / What scenes be to plot / Or a cop tappin’ on the glass like ‘what seems to be the problem?’’

Milo’s words have a newfound sense of purpose here, which grounds much of the esoteric imagery contained within them. This is particularly the case on touching personal tunes like ‘Note to Mrs’ or ‘Take Advantage of the Naysayer’, where he raps about his wife and father respectively. Elsewhere, he’s content to spit dizzying metaphysical boast raps: ‘Seen his hands fasten round the hilt of that rusted ruby scimitar / Speaking time-tested codas / Who them other rhythm wizards are?

It’s this confidence that really sets Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?! apart from Milo’s earlier work. His performances throughout the record are so sharp that whenever a guest MC appears, I find myself waiting in anticipation for Milo’s next verse. Said guests still manage to hold their own, however, particularly Elucid and the enigmatic Self Jupiter.

The only complaint I have for this record is simply that I want more of it. 42 minutes isn’t short by most standards, but when what’s on show is so fearlessly creative, it seems to fly by every time I put it on. I’ll happily devour any EPs and leftover tracks cooked up from this record, and am eagerly awaiting Milo’s next project.

Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?! is the kind of album that I follow music so closely for. The kind of record that finds a promising artist emerging with a unique and engaging voice, fulfilling their potential in the process of creating something truly new. It’s my favourite album of 2017, and I would implore anyone interested in good music to give it a listen. Peace out.

Album of the Year 2017: #2 Richard Dawson – PEASANT

https://i0.wp.com/www.weirdworldrecordco.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Richard-Dawson-Peasant-packshot-HI-RES-1.jpg

Richard Dawson is the most unsung bard in all of England. This short, stout, Geordie songsmith first caught my ear in 2014 with his album Nothing Important – on its sixteen minute title track, Dawson started by telling the story of his own birth, before embarking on a poetic odyssey through the most formative memories of his entire life, set to some absolutely wild guitar playing.

PEASANT, the follow-up to that album, is even more ambitious. This time, Dawson has turned his genius for storytelling away from his own life and – as you do – towards the Middle Ages. Yes, you read that right: PEASANT is a concept album that tells the stories of ten imaginary Medieval characters concocted entirely in Dawson’s imagination, each given name in the track listing: ‘Soldier’, ‘Weaver’, ‘Beggar’, ‘Prostitute’ and so on.

If that sounds intimidating, it isn’t. PEASANT is vibrant and uplifting music, and listening to it feels like charting an unexplored corner of a fantastical world. Anyone who appreciates an album like Joanna Newsom’s Ys will find in this record a kindred spirit: the winding songs and allusive stories are of the same ilk, though the songs are of a more digestible length.

The first time I listened to PEASANT, I was bowled over by its second track, ‘Ogre’, in a way that few songs managed in 2017. The song opens with lilting guitars and strings, which seem to come from a very ancient place. But the final minutes are what really took my breath away: a rush of harp, acoustic guitar and euphoric choir vocals form an invocation to the sun for three minutes, chanting over and over with increasing fervour: ‘When the sun is climbing…

Even after a year with PEASANT, that moment still gives me goosebumps. It makes me think of a community gathering in a tiny Medieval village in the middle of Spring, where all the children and cows and sheep are dancing around and clapping, celebrating the season with a kind of earnest joy that music seems hardly capable of these days. And something about it is so English in a way I find very endearing.

Smart of Dawson, too, to put this moment at the beginning of his record, because from here on in things get a bit knottier. ‘Prostitute’ tells the story of a downtrodden prostitute who steals a horse and escapes into the country, after her latest suitor chokes to death on his own puke. In ‘Shapeshifter’, the narrator gets lost in a mysterious place called the Bog of Names, before being freed by a benevolent animal spirit.

Each tale is strange and twisting, constructed with the kind of vivid imagination we might expect from a fantasy author like George R.R. Martin. And each one is delivered with Dawson’s absolutely marvellous voice, a thick and highly Northern drawl which is nevertheless capable of ascending to some perilous falsetto heights. The supporting musicians Dawson surrounds himself with, meanwhile, bring a huge amount of character and variety to each song, especially the fantastic choir vocalists.

Together, Dawson and his troupe of minstrels have put together one of the most ambitious folk records I’ve heard this decade with PEASANT. It is as uplifting as it is experimental, as intricate as it is inviting, and the tapestry of Olde English stories which it weaves is as compelling as any record I heard all year. Bar one, of course…

Album of the Year 2017: #3 Brand New – Science Fiction

https://www.billboard.com/files/media/Science-Fiction-brand-new-album-art-2017-billboard-1240.jpg

I’m not sure about this one. Truthfully, I feel very conflicted. Throughout almost the entirety of 2017 I had Brand New’s Science Fiction at my number two or three spot for album of the year. I listened to it constantly, more than any other record except my pick for number one. I bought tickets to go see them live at the O2 Academy in Brixton. And then the gig was cancelled and the band’s career almost instantly brought to an end by the sexual misconduct allegations levelled at frontman Jesse Lacey in November.

I wrote a lengthy blog post about the allegations and the business of public shame a couple of months ago, which I would like to point people towards here. But the end result of it all is a strange feeling I haven’t experienced in music before: disappointed idol-worship, or the realization that an artist you admire has done some really terrible, terrible things. It completely ruined my ability to enjoy old Brand New material, particularly Deja Entendu, the lyrics of which now read as the callous and self-obsessed confessions of an emotional abuser.

So where does that leave us with Science Fiction? Truthfully, I haven’t touched it since the stories about Lacey broke. I debated whether I should scratch it from the list entirely, but it wasn’t until I came to writing this review that I revisited the album in its entirety. Having done that, I’ve made the difficult decision (and one which I may regret later) to try and remove the music contained within Science Fiction as much as possible from the ugliness that surrounds it.

Part of the reason I feel able to do that is because Science Fiction feels, not just lyrically but in every way, like a maturation for the band. Lacey’s lyrics throughout are repentant in tone, but they aren’t self-serving in the way a song like ‘Me vs Maradona vs Elvis’ is. The picture it paints for me, and I am very hesitant of sounding like an apologist here, is one of a man who is more than aware of the fucked up things he has done, and is still dealing with the damage and the emotional implications of his actions.

Opener ‘Lit Me Up’ sounds, in retrospect, like a song directly about sex addiction. And it even portends the way Lacey’s public life and career have been devoured on social media and in the music press: ‘It lit me up, and I burned from the inside out / Yeah I burned like a witch in a puritan town’.

The first half of Science Fiction contains a running theme of therapy and psychodrama. Tracks are interspersed with ominous voice recordings of therapy sessions and recalled dreams, while lyrics are heavy with psychological strife. ‘Lit Me Up’ and ‘Can’t Get it Out’ are among the most atmospheric and immediate album openers of 2017, while the next three tracks chart a difficult path through self-harming, death and religious doubt.

If ‘Never Be Heaven’, a plodding and mopey acoustic ballad, is perhaps the album’s only misstep, then it only makes the catharsis all the stronger when the record reaches the explosive religious apocalypse of ‘137’, where Lacey imagines himself being immolated by an atom bomb as his band reach a furious climax. Then comes ‘Out of Mana’, the most brilliant and visceral rock song of the year, with an unforgettable but deliciously simple guitar riff in the chorus.

Science Fiction’s second half delivers track for track the best guitar music of the year, the band shifting from melancholy to manic with ease while writing some fantastic melodies. The harmonized vocals of ‘No Control’ are another highlight, as is the whisper-quiet finale ‘Batter Up’, a song that seems all too aware of its position at the close of a chapter, and the bittersweet sadness of ending: ‘It’s never going to stop / Batter up’.

Some will be glad to see Brand New come to an end in light of the allegations against Lacey. Many hardcore fans have had to make a difficult choice between rejection and reconciliation with the band’s music. For my part, I have chosen the latter only for Science Fiction because I think it is an honest record that approaches the problems with a great deal of humility and artistry. For some that won’t be enough, and I respect that. But whatever your opinion on Jesse Lacey and his actions, it’s hard to argue with the music on Science Fiction, which is simply some of the best 2017 had to offer.