[26 August 2013]
I have no idea why 11:11, the debut album from the revered Boston band Come, slipped by me back in 1993. I was a 20-something fan of grimy guitar rock then, so the album and band should have landed square in my wheelhouse. For whatever reason, though, I knew of both only by reputation. But that’s what’s great about reissues. Matador Records recently brought the long out-of-print 11:11 back in a remastered two-disc package that gives newcomers and longtime fans a chance to see how this music sounds 20 years later. My verdict: It sounds pretty damn good.
When the members of Come came together in 1990, they all had well-regarded bands on their resumes. Singer-guitarist Thalia Zedek came from Uzi and Live Skull. Guitarist Chris Brokaw was in Codeine. Bassist Sean O’Brien played with the Kilkenny Cats, and drummer Arthur Johnson was a vet of the Bar-B-Q Killers. That no doubt contributed to the assured sound they made together on 11:11, which feels tightly controlled even as it rolls and rages like a fast-moving thunderstorm.
Zedek and Brokaw create dense thickets of noise, their guitars scraping and stabbing at each other. O’Brien and Johnson propel the music forward with a relentless pounding, handling the songs’ frequent tempo changes flawlessly. And then there’s Zedek’s snarling vocals, at once angry and vulnerable. This combo catches fire on tracks like “Dead Molly”, a bleak epic that starts with Sabbath-like guitar sludge, slows down for a bluesy, stomping interlude, then roars back to life before ending in a blistering hail of feedback. The Zedek-Brokaw guitar interplay on “Submerge” practically scorches the speakers, and the shape-shifting “William” somehow combines jittery, surfy guitar lines with an anguished, stop-start chorus. At its best, the music on 11:11 envelops you in a melodic squall you’ll want to stay in the middle of for a long, long time.
This reissue pairs the original album with a 1992 live set at the Vermonstress Festival. I’ve never been a huge fan of live recordings on reissues, preferring to hear demo versions or unreleased tracks the help flesh out how a band got from A to B during the making of an album. That said, the performances captured here act as a nice counterpart to the studio recordings. There’s a rawer, more ragged sound on the live tracks, and they prove that the chemistry Zedek, Brokaw, O’Brien, and Johnson displayed on record certainly translated to the live stage.
Google 11:11 and you’re likely to find articles that praise it as one of the best albums of the 1990s, if not all of rock history. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but there’s no denying the power of this record. It’s easy to see how this muscular, sophisticated guitar rock fit so well with the early-‘90s scene of Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr., but the good news is that the songs don’t sound the least bit dated. Kudos to Matador for getting this excellent album back in print, and pardon me now while I go explore the rest of Come’s musical catalog.