COME. Devastating. Draining. Richly rewarding. Some of the most emotional music currently being made in the US. Not according to MARK LUFFMAN, though.

Melody Maker, 1996

COME
NEAR LIFE EXPERIENCE
Domino (8 tks/32 mins)

With the monarchy in terminal decline, those genealogical trainspotters at Burke’s Peerage may be well advised to switch their attentions to the in-breeding among the US lo-fi musicians. Come are relative late-comers to this scene — for their previous two records they’ve been a pretty monogamous quartet — but “Near Life Experience” sees them making up for lost time. Tortoise, The Jesus Lizard, Rachel’s, Retsin, Rodan, Gastr del Sol and Sonora Pine all get contributory personnel credits here, and if that wasn’t enough there’s a teasingly vague “instrumental touches from several more friends…” credit.

If the words “too many cooks” spring to mind… you’re right. “Near…” manages the dubious achievement of making eight tracks sprawl over half an hour. It’s an album of blurred photos from vaguely recognisable soundscapes. It’s a bit of all right. But it’s a bit of a mess.

Thalia Zedek’s voice is pretty poor at best. Faced with the dramatics placed on it by the songs here — epic, country blues numbers that would love to be The Triffids — it becomes a witless whine that betrays the music’s intentions, Chris Brokaw’s vocal debut is a blessed relief. He deadpans through the druggy doldrums of “Secret Number” with flatly funny panache, like a mildly embarrassed Bob Dylan. And he makes “Shoot Me First” sound like the sweetest marriage of Joy Division and The Walkabouts you’ve never imagined.

It’s not the absence of what makes Come Come that bothers me — the less of that the better. When the trumpet comes in on “Bitten” it’s not just the fact it makes Thalia shut up that makes me love it. It’s simply that it sounds so right. The curiously doowop, Go-Betweens-esque “Walk On” is rescued from mere oddity by some wonderful xylophone, while the record closes with “Sloe Eyed”, an affecting little lullaby from nowhere in the Come canon. What concerns me is that it’s impossible to tell if these saving changes arise out of desperation or release. There are enough instances of dreary vien ordinaire here to suggest that the bits that make “Near Life Experience” listenable are happy accidents, forced on a band with an album to make, but no one to make it with (you mean apart from all their aforementioned collaborators? — Bewildered Ed). They may never be this good again.