“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today’s guest is the indie musician’s musician, a tireless soul, not so much a worker ant but a hybridised worker bullet ant, toiling away at music that has a real lasting intense sting to it. From Cambridge, Massachusetts, I first knew of Chris Brokaw as part of the songwriting powerhouse with Thalia Zedek at the beating heart of Boston band Come – whenever I see the clock saying “11:11” I always think of him and Thalia and when I interviewed them in the early 90s at the Columbia Hotel in London.
Chris was also a member of slowcore cult heroes Codeine, but more recently he’s been slinging his trusty sideman guitar as part of The Lemonheads, Charnel Ground – his band with Kid Millions and James McNew of Yo La Tengo and Brokeback the band of VS fav Doug McCombs. In his day he’s also played with Thurston Moore and dangerously GG Allin. Constantly recording solo records, right now Chris has what is a breath-taking new album perhaps surprisingly the first with traditional rock songs, vox and lyrics since 2013. It’s called “Puritan”, it’s on the ever-excellent 12XU Records (Gerard Cosloy ex Matador’s label) and it’s out tomorrow. To tie in, we asked Chris back to these pages to choose a tune. Last time out here he also picked a local band and shone his Mag light on it much to my edutainment, and this time is equally enlightening, so it’s an absolute pleasure to give a 2021 VS welcome to the singularly, strikingly talented Chris Brokaw!
Here’s the driving indie rock of “The Heart of Human Trafficking” – one of the many moods on “Puritan”…
With songs like the intense almost Slint-like “Puritan” written and recorded within a week combined with songs like the street tough “Periscope Kids” which has been gestating within Chris’ cerebrus since 2014, it’s quite an album!
Although it’s ostensibly a solo record, it’s also a full on electric band affair which would be ace to hear out live (we can but dream given the pandemic flux in which we’re still embroiled) but which also works really well cranked up one louder on decent headphones.
Recently (2019 still counts! let’s forget last year) Chris had been playing shows with his old foil and VS buddy Thalia Zedek, and thankfully for a fan boy like me the dream team is re-assembled with Thalia on vocals and guitar for one of my favs short yet bittersweet “The Bragging Rights” and also “The Night Has No Eyes”.
Brokaw also expertly counterpoints with other female vocalists including friend Claudia Groom of Seattle band Juned and Tricia Adelmann (more of which below).
These are songs with stories, although not all perceptible, for instance the aforementioned “Periscope Kids” deals with a couple of miscreants from Seattle who caused no end of trouble. There’s bleak darkness of driving into the unknown on stand out tune “Depending”, but also unabashed beauteous romanticism on “I’m The Only One For You”. There’s a song written for a period ghost film, one named after and inspired by a Rudyard Kipling story and a cover of a song by Pittsburgh artist Karl Hendricks which Chris originally wrote for a tribute/benefit album. Truly it’s a multi faceted album that bears nay encourages repetition. Like chopping into a majesterial and mighteous oak, standing proud in the forest, it reveals its inner rings, each with its own tantalisingly twisted tale to tale which once heard aren’t easily forgotten.
The tone of “Puritan” ranges from GBV style rumpuses to the Go-Betweens-eseque beauty of “I Can’t Sleep” one of my absolute favourites, which leads nicely into Chris’s choice of tune – so without further ado, it’s over to Chris Brokaw for his new “song for ewe”…
“— In 2017 I started going to see this band in Boston called Possum. They’re a folk/country band with several members; they’re one of those very few bands (like the Mekons or Queens of The Stone Age circa 2004) (neither of whom they resemble) who have several great lead singers. Possum has 5 excellent singers, all quite different from one another, so I’d describe them as ‘endlessly entertaining’.
They have some really good songs, and this one is my favorite. I’ve been covering it for a couple of years now, haven’t recorded it yet. (One of their singers, Tricia Adelmann, sings with me on the song ‘I Can’t Sleep’ on my new album).”
“Puritan” by Chris Brokaw is out tomorrow (15th Jan) on 12XU Records and you can and should get it on the link below:
and here’s Chris’s “song for ewe” last time out…