Review Summary: A remarkable blend of melodicism and dissonance from an unfairly forgotten 90’s band. An excellent starting point for anyone unfamiliar with the group.
Hailing from the prolific Boston music scene, Come was a sadly overlooked group in existence from the early to late 90’s. Gently, Down the Stream
is their fourth (and last) album, the culmination of their previous recordings. Led by vocalist/guitarists Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw, both previously members of various other indie rock groups (most notably, Brokaw was the drummer and contributing guitarist for Codeine), with various rhythm sections filling in when needed.
Essentially a blues rock band in overdrive, Come uses their music as a cathartic release of emotion. Nowhere is this emotion more noticeable than in Zedek's raspy vocals. Her strained voice seems to echo the strains of her heart, which is equally encapsulated in the bleak lyrics, which seem to deal primarily with relationships and emptiness, possibly as a result of said relationships. Perhaps the added weight of being a recovering heroin addict played a role, as well. However, for this record, Come began to move away from their more bluesy roots, and the songs themselves are cleaner and more melodic than anything else they have done. This makes it a good starting point for anyone new to the band and contributes greatly to what is arguably their best album. Initially, Come’s sound may appear sludgy, but upon further inspection, the intricacies of each song reveal themselves. Dark and dissonant, the guitars of Chris Brokaw and Thalia Zedek intertwine in complex melodies drenched in feedback. On top of this, the production for the album is flawless. The bass is punchy, the vocals are mixed just right, the drums are crisp, and the guitars simultaneously chime and crash together above everything. Despite obviously being a guitar dominated album, both the bass playing and drum work are impeccable, as well.
The first sounds heard on this album are squeals of noisy guitar feedback with contrasting chords lingering in the background. The drums and bass kick in, serving only to further the chaos created. At the one minute mark, things begin to take shape as a definite riff is hammered out. The song, “One Piece”, is anchored by an angular guitar riff punctuated by rapid bursts of harmonic feedback. It is soon picked up by the rest of the band, and Thalia's vocals follow shortly. The remainder of the song vamps on this, with one guitar alternating between the same backing chords and a lead melody before both break down into jangling and heavily distorted rhythms in the verse. An excellent start to an excellent album.
Brokaw’s two contributions as vocalist on “Recidivist” and “Silk City” show marked improvement over his past attempts at singing. Both are standout tracks, with “Silk City” being a high point for the album. The last two minutes of the song build up to a climax after a wonderfully restrained guitar solo, only to end on a questioning note of feedback not unlike the screech of tires, leaving the listener teetering on the edge.
The songs here are a mix between driving, rhythmic workouts and the more melodic tendencies of the two previous songs. There is a near perfect balance between hooks and hard rock. The slow burner that is “Saints Around My Neck” overlaps both categories, and is oddly uplifting despite it’s gloomy message. Rather than clashing guitars, the majority of the song is built upon a few gentle arpeggios. During the chorus, the pent up frustration is released, but is quieted back down shortly thereafter. Towards the end of the song, this frustration begins to boil over, and Zedek is left crying out that she “can’t confess with saints around my neck.” Though there are dense and heavy songs here, there are also many truly memorable moments with some heartbreaking and breathtaking melodies on this album. A key example of this being “The Fade-Outs,” a song that bridges the gap between dissonant and anthemic rock. “A Jam Blues” acts as a complement to the previous song: it is a perfect example of the overdriven, sludgy blues sound Come specializes in. Perhaps the densest song on the album, it can be a very disorienting experience on first listen. The separate guitar riffs bounce off each other and create complex and very textured sounds. Zedek’s distorted vocals add to the this sense of disorientation. But beneath the layers of noise and odd time signatures lies a blues rock song which will reveal itself after a few listens. “The Former Model” is an interesting departure from the rest of the album. A melancholy arrangement of strings and piano work, it serves as a kind of break before continuing into the album’s second longest song, “March”.
The last, and perhaps most accessible, of Come's four albums, Gently, Down the Stream
, is a dark, bitter affair filled with wonderful interplay between the two guitarists. This is an album I would strongly recommend to anyone and everyone, but if this sounds in the least bit interesting to you, do yourself a favor and check it out.