Blue Notes

By Eric Demby

Paper magazine, 1996?

paperThalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw both have transparent eyes. The vulnerability projected by this trait belies the heavy, rough-edged rock that the pair produces as the creative center of the Cambridge, Mass., band Come. The three of us sit in a dusty corner of the basement of the Mercury Lounge, where there happen to be a couple of gravestones leaning against the wall. After discerning that the stones are about 35 years old, we move on to music. Come’s latest record, a “mini-LP” entitled Near Life Experience (Matador), is a slight departure from the band’s first two albums. ’92’s Eleven: Eleven and ’94’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which were textbook examples of stop/start guitar tension given a healthy dose of the blues. When asked why Come is one of those bands that requires repeated listenings to appreciate, Brokaw says, “We try to be a bit subtle here and there with what the emotion is that’s coming across in a particular song. It’s not really laying all the cards out on the table. With that form, you’re not gonna get everything immediately.” He continues on to say, “When the band first started, I was really into the idea of building unbearable tension that didn’t necessarily break out.”

Near Life Experience doesn’t possess the unity or emotional heft of the band’s earlier efforts, mainly due to some personnel changes, but it rocks in new, more entertaining ways for what is essentially a new Come since the departure last summer of drummer Arthur Johnson and bassist Sean O’Brien. Bassist Tara Jane O’Neil and drummer Kevin Coultas (both formerly of the now seminal Louisville band Rodan and currently in the Sonora Pine, among others) supply the rhythm on half the record’s eight tracks (they’re also touring with the band), while bassist Bundy Brown (ex-Tortoise, Gastr Del Sol) and drummer Mac McNeilly (Jesus Lizard) play on the other half.

Zedek’s simple explanation for why this record is only 32 minutes long is simple: “We didn’t intend to record an album and we had never played with any of these people before. It ended up corning out better than we had hoped.” Brokaw confesses that “It’s a tricky issue,” adding that “Someone pointed out to me the other day that — you know that record Reign in Blood by Slayer? It’s like the birth of speed metal,” he explains. “This record, like, started a revolution. 32 minutes.” Good enough.

Come does in fact experiment a bit on Near Life. For one, Brokaw sings for the first time, on two songs: the raw stomper “Secret Number” and the gorgeous western harmony of “Shoot Me First.” Some horns can be heard on the punky “Bitten,” and John McEntire (Tortoise, The Sea and Cake) lends his marimba skills to the somber folk melody of “Walk Ons.” Why would a band with such a distinctive sound break out like this? “It’s like if your girlfriend dumps you,” Zedek explains: “It really sucks, but then the upside is that you can date again. We’re in the dating stage.” “Were in the slut stage,” Brokaw interjects. “Breaking hearts across America.”