Brendan Shea – the man who creates music under the moniker of Brendan & the Strangest Ways – had a tough time over the four years it took him to record ‘Are We Sure The Dawn Is Coming?’: he went through more than one messy breakup, difficulties keeping a band together, financial struggles trying to survive as a musician, and even issues with sobriety. So, it makes sense that this is as much of an album as it is a confessional collection of his trials and struggles.
Buffalo, New York native Shea has spent time as a working musician in Seattle, and you can really hear those famous Seattle grunge influences throughout, but they are especially prominent on the opening track ‘Emerald City’s Gone’: it’s a song about trying again at a failed relationship, even though you know you and your partner should know better and the shine has long since worn off. “And remind me what the difference is / Between enemies and friends not spoken to,” are just a couple of the first of many sharp, quotable lines we hear. Shea’s hoarse vocals with a bitter edge make a big impact on ‘We Can Beat Mercury’, and they’re given even more gravitas when they’re coupled with sonically rich strings. “That bastard ain’t fast enough to catch us not tonight,” is a standout line that’s delivered with a real defiance.
‘Poor Waking Hours’ is a tale as old as time of a lover that seems impossible to get over, and ‘Stranded’ follows in a similar vein: “I love you honey, why you so mean to me,” Shea sings in desperation on the chorus. ‘Gaslight’ – a song which it should be noted is about the warmth of said gaslight and has nothing to do with the recently ubiquitous term “gaslighting” – has a heavy 90s rock influence, but there are hints of the best of classic Springsteen in there too. ‘The Good’ is the most acoustic track of the album, and one that features the best opening lines: “These days I can’t help feeling like a shell of my old self / Like some backward evolution turned me into someone else”. ‘My Little Hypocrite’ is an attention grabber from the outset, sounding like the best power pop-rock played on the radio in decades long gone. The chorus is something of an earworm too, “She’s my little hypocrite / She gives up quick,” will surely be rattling around in your brain for sometime after you listen.
‘Light Me A Candle’ is the only track to feature piano prominently, but it does so effectively alongside Shea’s vulnerable lyrics about addiction (“We’ll see if damage done is something can be left behind / So I’m coming down from booze tonight for the nineteen-hundredth time”) and yet more welcome strings. “Light me a candle, say me a prayer / Or lay me to ruin in this disrepair / Teach me a history, one where we’re not there / This is bound to be over soon,” he sings on the chorus, giving echoes of Jason Isbell and Justin Townes Earle.
On the final track, the optimistic ‘Turn Your Luck’, Shea sings of hope that soon his luck in the music industry might change, ending with the line, “Chin up you’re gonna turn your luck someday”. If the Gods of music success play fair, with such a top-quality album his luck should be turning very soon.