[11 January 2006]
There are some (me) who believe that every rock record would be better if only Chris Brokaw would play guitar on it. His fluidity, his heart, his precision and mastery of the instrument have made him a jewel in the overrun world of guitar-based music. Remember Codeine? You should. Remember Come? They were on Matador during the ‘90s heyday of indie rock. 1992’s Eleven:Eleven is a must—a dark, foreboding record that sounds like a car wreck in the middle of the night with no one around to witness it. Sure, Thalia Zedek’s last-shot-at-survival howling is a key to its importance, but Eleven:Eleven would be nothing without Brokaw’s desperately moving, dense guitar-playing.
Incredible Love, Brokaw’s latest solo effort, and his first really showcasing his hesitant but lulling vocals throughout, is a late 2005 release that really should be talked about more. It sounds like the adult companion-piece to the Replacements’ Hootenanny. Hootenanny is surely not the best Replacements record, but it could stand as their most fun, with a couple of profound moments found within. Incredible Love seems to follow that model, only grown up, without the jokes. Brokaw sounds like he collected some songs that were pretty damn good, threw in a well-chosen, impeccably rendered cover (Suicide’s “I Remember”) and ended up with a record that can be pleasant to hear while making dinner or one you can study closely while relaxing after the meal is over.
The bonus to a guitar-rock record from someone like Chris Brokaw is the earned professionalism to it. There’s an inherent depth to it that can, and is, lacking with some newer bands. Brokaw’s influences obviously stem far beyond the present-day seeming old timers such as Sonic Youth and Pavement. Brokaw’s playing references everything from Flatt & Scruggs to John Fahey to Kid Congo Powers (Gun Club). He has myriad skills but uses them tastefully, always letting the song come through first.
Brokaw’s lyrics and singing add another dimension to Incredible Love. There’s a slight talking quality to the vocals, not going as far as someone like Lou Reed, but just enough to heighten the stories that are the songs. “I was wise, and smart as hell / Regaining all my senses / But I’d follow a certain smell / Instead of following suggestions” Brokaw says on “100 Faces”. He stretches out some syllables, crushing others together, to get the right words into the song. The result sounds off at first, but quickly becomes natural. And that can sum up the whole of this record, too. There’s a lo-fi quality that can be distracting until the listener hears what the subtlety is hiding. It’s the way the notes hit sharply against one another (“Whose Blood”) or space themselves away (“Gringa”) that provide the texture that gives Incredible Love its range and depth. Chris Brokaw may be known as the guitar guy in some great bands, but now he should be heralded for what he has accomplished primarily by himself.