Over a couple of decades' worth of career, Chris Brokaw has played with a
really astonishing array of first-rate bands and artists, from his
slow-drumming days with Codeine, through a dark and brooding partnership
with Thalia Zedek in Come, to a stint backing punk-psyche-country kingpin
Steve Wynn, to more recent recordings with the New Year and Clint Conley's
Consonant. It's surprising he has time to record solo, but in fact,
Incredible Love is his fourth full-length, following 2002's Red
Cities. And this time, too, as Brokaw steps out in front, the result
is low-key and excellent. These songs are unassuming and understated, but
so well-made that they stick with you after only a few plays.
The cut that captures your attention first is "Move" a driving, hazy,
drum-powered song that is several degrees more aggressive than the rest of
the album. It is built, like the rest of the album, on a foundation of
acoustic guitar, yet this is the loudest, most rock-oriented acoustic
you've ever heard. The lyrics, you realize on repeated listens, are
wistful, mournful even, the move of the title being one out of a broken
relationship, yet they are buried low in the mix, building tension as they
snake in and out of the jangle of notes. A dense array of sounds moves in
and out of focus, a spiraling electric guitar, some sort of cool-toned
keyboard, the slash of drums but the song has an indeterminate unity, as
if it could not be made of other elements. It's the kind of song you can
listen to over and over and still not understand why it's so great... it's
simply there, itself and irreducible, as all memorable songs are. The lone
cover is also excellent, revisiting Suicide's "I Remember" with acoustic
guitars. Brokaw uses the same sort of space-wheeling roller-coaster of
distorted sound that Martin Rev employed on the original, and it makes a
striking contrast to the much warmer tone of his voice and guitar.
While these two songs pop first, the subtler "X's for Eyes" may well be the
disc's best, its lovely melody twining around picked guitar patterns. The
song twists and turns around its subject, using body metaphors bones on
a blanket, blood to evoke the end of a relationship. Brokaw nails the
ending, terminating the song with its most effective image in the lines "While
we got awoken like bugs in the winter/ Too dumb to rise/ With no sense of proportion/
Or thought of dimension/ And both started walking/ With X's for
eyes." "Whose Blood," too, puts the stinger in the end, closing its
abstract bluegrassy jam with a short meditation on war and loss.
Brokaw's lyrics are oblique, raising ideas about war, peace, love and loss
without filling in too many of the blanks. Still, the album feels like the
musings of someone who's not quite at home with the world, either
personally or politically, and whose discomfort translates into melancholy
art. That seeps through even in the lone instrumental piece, as "Gringa"
turns rising chord progressions into sad meditation.
The liner notes are particularly beautiful, accompanying each song's lyrics
with an uncredited photo a small child in a boat, a woman with her head
turned away, a hand on a pool cue. Sharp and evocative like the songs
themselves, these images imply stories that have not been explicitly told
and emotions that have been kept in check. What's on the surface is just
the beginning here, and what's underneath is well worth exploring.