Although it’s been almost a decade since Come was releasing records, the band’s guitarist, Chris Brokaw, has been far from quiet. In addition to working with top-shelf folks such as Thurston Moore and Mission to Burma’s Clint Conley, he’s had a quietly steady solo career. Canaris represents Brokaw’s second instrumental full-length (the first being 2002’s more rock oriented Red Cities).
Anyone familiar with Brokaw’s work knows that the guy can play the guitar. Canaris is primarily an acoustic affair, and while it isn’t much of a platform for his ragged glory shreddage, it does shine a light on his undeniable skills. His playing here is crisp, enhanced by excellent recording and production that lend an intimacy to the proceedings. Tracks such as album opener “Exemptive” and “Watching the Clouds” aren’t going to blow any minds, but there are some unexpectedly lovely melodic moments that point to Brokaw’s talents as a songwriter.
The album’s most notable tracks are “Drink the Poetry of the Celtic Disciple” – a seemingly note-for-note cover of a song by France’s near mythic black metalists Vlad Tepes – and the title song, a 17-minute-plus feedback/drone workout. Though coming from opposite ends of the sonic spectrum, the tracks are a tribute to, if anything, Brokaw’s stamina. Both the artist and the listener are asked to hang in there and work for what results in an impressive aural summit. “The Celtic Disciple” is a dizzying ride that, while not as furious as the original, is urgent, dense and epic in its own way. Brokaw’s performance omits the blunt force trauma of the original, and taps into the more ethereally macabre elements of European black metal. “Canarsis,” on the other hand, is classic slow-burn noise-scape, skipping the actual notes of electric guitar mayhem and embracing the residual clang.
All that said, I occasionally find myself questioning the necessity of these sorts of tasteful displays of six-string, fingerpicking virtuosity. My initial thought, however unfairly, is to think “not another one of these.” But Canaris is no mere bedroom wankery or self-indulgent hodge-podge. It’s a fully-formed album with peaks and valleys, and a diversity of styles held together by a cohesive aesthetic. Toss in the guitarist’s pedigree, and that’s more than enough to justify its existence.