Album Review of Brett Newski: Land Air Sea Garage
Brett Newski‘s music combines ’90s/’00s pop-rock singing and songwriting, a punk attitude, and a coffeehouse delivery style to form a catchy, engaging, understated-yet-rich sound that would comfortably fill an auditorium. He’s simultaneously unique and familiar. Think Matchbox 20’s songwriting with Green Day’s attitude and a hint of a nod to Wally Pleasant’s offbeat delivery, perhaps a little more oddly unique than Barenaked Ladies. And damn, the songs on Land Air Sea Garage are catchy.
There is a great deal of detail in Brett’s songwriting, and if you pay attention to lyrics on this disc you’ll learn the following three things, and probably more, from his songs: 1) There must be at least two Mollies; 2) Girls with purple hair are the arbiters of who is and isn’t cool; and 3) “Post-normal” is a fun self-descriptor, and we should really all consider using that phrase more often.
The most surprising thing about the song production on Land Sea Air Garage may be how Brett’s able to maintain the purity-of-rawness of his stripped-down music while recording it with such lush, rich, room-filling sound.
The album opens with a raw-alt-folky-rock explosion via the energetic mid-tempo “Garage.” That’s followed by a jog to the mildly hauntingly eerie “Stranger,” suggesting a little Americana influence, mostly by way of a surf guitar-esque edge in spots, at least to the degree someone like Chris Isaak might mix that with alt-pop-rock.
Indeed, Brett maintains his central musical persona throughout the album, with various external influences making cameos, resulting in a cohesive, complete disc with more than enough variance from song-to-song to keep it interesting across dozens of listens.
The most noticeable song on the disc, of course, is “D.I.Y.” It’s the song that most reminds me of Wally Pleasant, with its lyrical cleverness drawing a vivid picture in each verse. The song also leaves the listener to wonder why Brett uses the f-word freely repeatedly in the chorus but swallows it in one verse. This traack simultaneously embraces and critiques D.I.Y./punk/alt-music culture throughout, including an amusing nugget referencing Modest Mouse. And wow, it’s a monster earworm! I guarantee, within a listen or two, you’ll be singing along to this one.
Also interesting is “Molly,” a love-gone-wrong warning tale in which Brett creeps along wistfully throughout the verses before belting out its faster-tempo, jangly “damaged goods” chorus and building in power through the end. It’s a great song-tempo format when done this well, one I’d expect to conclude with an out-of-breath exhale at a live performance.
“Bending Spoons & Skipping Prayers,” a mild-manneredly rambunctious number, is also worth noting because it utilizes a recurring Neil Diamond/”Sweet Caroline”-ish sing-along segment that jumped out at me as something special during my very first listen.
But my enduring personal favorite seems to be “Barcelona.” The song itself is simply a mid-tempo, strumming, alt-pop-rocker with some well-placed orchestration. But it’s well-written and just hooky enough to grow on the listener. It wasn’t an early favorite, but now, after several dozen listens, it’s the tune I most often sing along to. I’d rate it “most likely to still be a favorite in ten years.”
Seriously, though, the whole disc is strong, including the songs I didn’t mention by name. One of those may well end up being your personal favorite.
Land Air Sea Garage was my introduction to Brett Newski’s music. The album showcases his meticulous attention to detail when crafting his songs (in such a way that it’s supposed to seem he didn’t try very hard), his awareness of the importance of a subtely great hook if a song is to withstand multiple listens, and his comfortably mainstream-yet-quirky delivery. It leaves me hoping to catch him on tour and anxiously awaiting his next release. I suspect his longtime fans are just as satisfied by this disc.
From clicking the “Tour” tab on Brett’s website, it looks like he has a few shows lined up this month (March 8th in Youngstown, OH; March 11th in Pittsburgh, PA; March 12th in Fort Wayne, IN; and March 15th in Madison, WI) before heading to SXSW in Austin March 15th-18th. That’s followed by a March 24th through April 12th tour of South Africa. And on April 28th, he’s releasing his next album. So spin Land Air Sea Garage with impunity because there’s a new album coming to replace it soon. (“Join it.” Not “replace it”; “join it.” You’ll be allowed to keep this one, too.)