REVIEW: Newcomer – Between the Briny Devil & Thee, Conqueror of Eighth Sea City [2021]

Artist: Newcomer
Album Between the Briny Devil & Thee, Conqueror of Eighth Sea City

Newcomer—while a fitting name for the angsty and aggressive demeanor that kickstarted their rambunctious career—isn’t really a terribly fitting name for the east coast onslaught that it describes. While Rejection // Dejection and, to a lesser extent, God Eat Dog were chaotic, steamrolling the listener with sheer mosh-inducing power, the band’s long-awaited debut full length, Between the Briny Devil & Thee, Conqueror of Eighth Sea City (or just Between the Briny Devil & Thee for short) is a different beast altogether—one that sees Newcomer shed the emotional, volatile and directionless ire of their early releases in favor of something more focused and carefully constructed. Throughout its sprawling sixteen-song track list, Between the Briny Devil & Thee covers everything from mosh-fueling vitriol to alternative-laced post-rock and even lo-fi hip-hop and shoegaze. The result is a record which was at first described to be as “bipolar,” and, honestly is probably best described as such, as Newcomer take the listener through moments of unremarkable and unrelenting energy just as they do through moments of turbid, unsettling calm and ambience.

When I pressed “play” on Between the Briny Devil & Thee, I thought I knew exactly what I was getting into—and the opening salvo on “Die By Thy Scythe” seemed to confirm that for me. For those unaware, Newcomer are, historically, a supremely violent act, capturing the grit and grim energy of their surrounding city and transforming it effortlessly into malevolent music that touched on everything from survival to suicidal ideation and coping with depression. Rejection//Dejection was a colossal record for this, while God Eat Dog followed in similar footsteps. Now, on their debut full length, Newcomer sound almost as if two totally different bands collided…Or, at the very least, released a split. Where “Looney Screw Loose” and “Die by Thy Scythe” are very classic Newcomer songs, the record takes a different turn on the three tracks that follow, with “2031: A New York Odyssey” sounding as though it were an amalgam of a toned-down lo-fi hip-hop cut and the sounds of ambient street life. Other songs—like the singles release penultimate to the record, including “La Gran Mentira” take on a mellow alternative rock sound and blend it with elements of genres ending in “-gaze.” As it stands, the lions share of Between the Briny Devil & Thee spends its time alternating between atmospheric songs that offer the listener an entirely new side to Newcomer—suggesting that maybe the name hasn’t made itself obsolete quite yet.

Those songs that long-time fans of Newcomer came for though—like “Looney Screw Loose” and “The Devil Wears Fendi,” among others—are nothing short of perfect. Each song transports the listener back to a state of youthful, ignorant rage. “A Spike Lee Joint” stands tall as a pre-eminent favorite with the addition of Kaonashi’s Peter Rono, adding more depth and substance to the song’s lyrical substance, discussing the inherent social difficulties and stigma that accompanies being an African-American with interests in alternative music and subculture. Similarly, “The Devil Wears Fendi” recruits Steven Sanchez (The Last Ten Seconds of Life), who lends his percussive skills to what is one of the most spastic three minute songs this side of a Frontierer record, of course ending in a breakdown that can best be described as cataclysmic. These two tracks join the already-released and well-established barn-burner, “Looney Screw Loose” as well as “Die By Thy Scythe” and “Upper West Side Necktie” and “Eat My Shorts” as the records’ resident ruthless cuts. 

After spending some time with Between the Briny Devil & Thee, my feelings are still difficult to really put into words. On one hand, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed—primarily because the heavier songs on the full length stand to rival those of Newcomer’s debut EP when it comes to quality—and I’d really like more of that. On the other hand, the use of interspersed atmospheric songs lends even more impact to those heavier songs, and does lend the listener a chance to dive deeper into Newcomer’s collective psyche. At the end of the day, despite the careful work that went into creating the record’s flow and overall atmos, I still can’t seem to shake the sensation that The Briny Devil & Thee almost feels like two EPs that were kind of wedged together, and ultimately, I’d have liked to get just a lick more of Newcomer’s heavier side to balance out the more experimental and ethereal portions of the record. With that said, “A Spike Lee Joint” alone is enough to make this record colossally impactful, and throughout the moments of atmosphere the listener gets an ability to mentally unwind and decompress—something we could all use. At the end of the day, Newcomer made a supremely ambitious, wildly experimental and—dare I say it—successful full length record, the likes of which their more veteran counterparts would be proud.

For Fans Of: ‘Sabella, Born a New, Kaonashi, Balance & Composure, Shamewave, Apollo
By: Connor Welsh