Graded on a Curve:
Chris Brokaw,
Puritan

Chris Brokaw is noted as guitarist, drummer, vocalist, and songwriter, but between his work as a solo artist, soundtrack specialist, collaborator in numerous bands and session player, he’s also been one of the busiest musicians on the global scene. This says a whole lot about the guy’s dedication, temperament and sound decision making. His latest solo album, Puritan, is equally loquacious on the subject of staying power through creative verve. Offering nine solid songs elevated by seamless execution, it’s out January 15 on 140 gram vinyl (black) and digital via 12XU.

Although he was active in the late 1980s, notably in the band 7 or 8 Worm Hearts (alongside guitarist Glenn Jones, tape manipulator Phil Milstein and others), Chris Brokaw’s made his proper splash into the indie milieu at the dawn of the following decade as the drummer in Codeine, and then followed that up a couple years later in Come, where he shared guitar and vocal duties with Thalia Zedek.

Brokaw’s talent has impacted dozens of scenarios since then, but that Zedek sings and plays guitar on two of Puritan’s tracks underscores cohesiveness amid the breadth. Along with Zedek, Tricia Anderson and Claudia Groom sing on a track apiece, but the album’s core trio is Brokaw on guitar and vocals with Dave Carlson on bass and Pete Koeplin on drums, their playing sharp throughout.

However, as a solo record, this set appropriately finds Brokaw consistently in the foreground, with his vocals immediately up front in the opening title track. But it’s his guitar that gets an extended instrumental spotlight in the cut’s back half, a stretch simultaneously establishing a trio dynamic that’s both heavy and lithe. For the very next selection, “Depending,” the gears shift into melodic-rock territory of a near singer-songwriter comportment.

That means Brokaw’s voice gets further emphasized, and to rewarding effect. And the same is true of “I’m the Only One for You,” where he duets with Groom early in the song and then wordlessly harmonizes (seemingly with himself through multitracking) thereafter. At first, the number radiates a decidedly neo-’60s pop vibe, but then shifts into a zone that’s just a tad reminiscent of Low circa I Could Live in Hope and Long Division.

As Codeine was amongst the earliest of the so-called slowcore bands, this is worth a mention, though with “The Bragging Rights,” Brokaw redirects into an indie folk neighborhood. Interestingly, this is one of the tunes with input from Zedek. I dig it, but am frankly partial to the following cut, a strummy vocal duet with Anderson that’s halfway between ’80s jangle and Rather Ripped-era Sonic Youth, but with concision that recalls the early days of Guided By Voices.

“The Heart of Human Trafficking” flips the script, stretching out to over seven minutes as it retains a resemblance to late Sonic Youth (it’s in the group velocity as beauty move) and seasons it with some distorted grease a la Crazy Horse. But as Mark Lanegan points out in his promo appreciation for Puritan, “Periscope Kids” exudes a deeper likeness to Guided By Voices, though I’m still hearing a touch of Sonic Youth, this time vocally.

The emphasis on Brokaw as a singer is one of Puritan’s most welcome qualities, but then the trucking instrumental “Report to an Academy” arrives without sacrificing rock heft as the track even dishes some technical flash. It sets the table for the album’s closer, bringing Zedek back on guitar as Brokaw sings a swell cover of “The Night Has No Eyes,” a song by the late Pittsburg indie rocker Karl Hendricks.

Lanegan begins his short piece by stating that Puritan’s maker is “the consummate underground rock musician.” For those unfamiliar with Brokaw’s work, that might read like overstatement stemming from pure admiration, but as these tracks play, the assessment resonates, particularly during Hendricks’ tune, as one u-grounder interprets the underheard work of another. It’s a gesture as genuine as the man’s body of work is worthwhile.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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