Adrian Cooper has been unwell

Old reviews that are no longer available online, or from sites that no longer exist. The pen is dead, long live the camera.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Chris Brokaw
Incredible Love

Some people don’t like to make a lot of noise, they’re not overly eager to draw attention to themselves, they tend to keep things on the quiet side. The career of Chris Brokaw appears to be a case in point.

Brokaw first cropped up in New York slow-core luminaries Codeine – a band so slow that glaciers can cross continents before a song reaches its chorus and narcoleptics could fall into slumbers between beats, yet still wake up in time for the next stroke of the drums. And as Brokaw was the man supplying that beat, you have to wonder if maybe the sloth isn’t the only creature that lives out its life at a fraction of the speed of the rest of us.

After Codeine’s ’Frigid Stars LP’ and ‘Barely Real’, Brokaw headed off to Boston, laid down his sticks for a bit in favour of a guitar and joined forces with Thalia Zedek in Come, a band only marginally less sedate than Codeine. More recently, Brokaw seems to be making something of a habit of playing in bands featuring other established musicians. He’s returned to the drums in the rather spectral New Year (alongside former Bedhead brothers Matt and Bubba Kadane), plays in Doug McCombs intricate post-Tortoise post-rock outfit, Pullman, and also in Consonant, the band formed by former Mission of Burma man, Clint Conley as well as making guest appearances on recent records by the likes of Evan Dando and Karate.

And if you think that that sounds like enough for most people, you may be surprised to know that he’s also found the time to hold down a solo career (though if that is the case, you’d perhaps also be wondering why this article existed in the first place). So it’s no mere coincidence that Brokaw is about to unleash his second solo album, ‘Incredible Love’.

You know the way that Bjork’s ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ starts off all soft and tranquil, then suddenly shouts ‘arrrgghhhhhh!!!! I’m a bit loopy me’ in your ear just when you were about to drift off to la-la land? Well, ‘Incredible Love’ is a bit like that. OK, so it’s not like Brokaw gone and torn his larynx out screaming like a good ‘un or ripped the volume knobs off his guitar trying to turn it up further than it was designed to be played, but compared to what has come before, this still feels like something of a departure.

It all starts innocuously enough. ‘Blues For The Moon’ is a gentle and engaging number that nicely draws you in and leaves you with the false impression that this Brokaw is going for the less whiny Jeff Buckley aesthetic. All of which means that the opening bars of ‘Move’ feels somewhat like a slap in the face, as the volume increases and it all starts to get a that little bit rowdy, and it doesn’t end there. Things continue in this vein across the album – soft songs interspersed with hard-edged rock outs, gentle melodies begetting pounding drums and rough-hewn rockers, beefed up by the presence of Karate’s Jeff Goddard and former Rodan man, Kevin Koultas.

But the most intriguing thing about ‘Incredible Love’ is that when you go back for another listen, which you will many times over, you find that the majority of the songs are not actually anywhere near as loud as you first thought. So how you have just been tricked into thinking of this as something other than it really is?

The answer can only lie in Brokaw’s willingness to understand that delicate doesn’t necessarily have to equal indistinct, that it is possible to take intricate songs and record them in a manner that means that listeners won’t have to strain themselves trying to enjoy the album, that gives a depth and strength to the sound that most people would never think of using, something that has been apparent on nearly every record on which he’s ever played. And not only is ‘Incredible Love’ is all the better for it, it is indeed quite incredible.

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