By Ryan Kallberg
Minnesota Daily, February 1998
Come’s ’96 album, Near Life Experience, was just about perfect. Singer-guitarists Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw had recently taken on a replacement rhythm section (actually, just a bass and drums) and proceeded to turn out a hypnotic, frightening masterpiece of shattering guitars that never let up. Come, after a near disintegration, had arrived.
So it figures that their new record, Gently, Down the Stream (Matador), finds them starting over again. Come have another new rhythm section — one and a half, in fact. Winston Bramen, the bassist who appears on Gently, is in another band and couldn’t reconcile with Come’s demanding touring schedule. Gently drummer Daniel Coughlin (of Throttle) stayed along for the ride, and Zedek and Brokaw flew bassist Sascha Steinfurth over from Germany to complete the touring crew.
“I would love to have something consistent,” Brokaw says. “I mean, it’s been really fun, and I think it’s been really illuminating to the songs themselves to play them with different people. … But I would love to have something consistent.”
Speaking from a (slightly) objective standpoint, Come’s lineup changes don’t seem to have done any harm. Gently, Down The Stream isn’t a soundalike for Near Life Experience, though the step may be sideways instead of forward.
“This new record is a lot more confident-sounding, for a number of reasons,” Brokaw says. “When we did Near Life Experience it was much more of an experiment, because it was right after (original drummer and bassist) Arthur and Sean had left, and we were playing with all these people we’d never played with before. This new one, we’d been playing with Winston and Daniel for several months.”
Zedek and Brokaw’s guitars (and Zedek’s voice) still growl, bark and whisper at each other like a pack of feedback-hungry wolves. The songs are still in a minor key (or two). And the group’s work with Morphine producer Paul Q. Kolderie has established beautiful dynamics for winding songs like “Saints around My Neck” — although you may have to turn the volume uncomfortably high to discover them.
The opener, “One Piece,” builds for a minute of feedback and noodling — that somehow threatening orchestral tuning every good band needs. When the song ends about six minutes and six movements later, you’ll realize that you’ve just heard a tour de force played as a warm-up piece.
“Recidivist,” the follow-up, is liberating and jangly, though maybe a bit of a downer — “I’m nothing you haven’t done before,” Brokaw sings, in a slightly unfamiliar voice.
Brokaw’s vocal turns on Near Life Experience were flat and nicely deadpan, and those songs much less distorted, recalling New Order before that act disappeared into a techno fog. On Gently, Down the Stream, Brokaw rasps with an edge that approaches Zedek’s; it’s a result, he says, of a decision to “try to sing things that are a little more in my natural register.”
“When I did those songs from Near Life, I wrote them singing in a pretty low key, and singing in a key that I can’t sing very loudly,” Brokaw says. “And I went on tour for a few months having to sing those every night and just being completely inaudible.”
Zedek takes over again for “Stomp,” which comes along with a rumble and whoo-hoo backing vocals — Come at that moment seems a different band entirely. Two tracks later, on the epic “Saints around My Neck,” they don’t sound like a band at all; they sound like artists. And then…
Well, you’ve heard enough already. And that’s just the first half of the record.