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Come - 11:11

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Artist: Come

Album: 11:11

Label: Matador

Review date: Aug. 5, 2013

Come - "Live at the Middle East, March 5, 1991"

11: 11 was Come’s first full-length album, following (and incorporating) a Sub Pop singles club entry of “Car” backed with “Last Mistake” that was released in 1991. Singer and guitarist Thalia Zedek had lately kicked heroin, jettisoned her role in the noisy no-wave band Live Skull and moved back to Boston. Fellow guitarist Chris Brokaw was still drumming in Codeine but also looking for an outlet for his songwriting. The rhythm section, Sean O’Brien and Arthur Johnston, had relocated from Athens, Ga., where they had played in bands including Kilkenny Cats, Fashion Victim (O’Brien) and BBQ Killers (Johnston). They played for about a year in and around Boston before recording the “Car” single, their churning, chugging, long-form dirges likened to Birthday Party, Gun Club and the Patti Smith Band. They toured Europe on the single and returned to Cambridge in 1991 to record 11:11 in seven and a half days.

The album is remarkable for its unvarnished fury, its firehouse spray of emotion. Zedek’s voice is feral and catlike, now crouched in a corner, now spitting and hissing, now leaping through the air at you, claws out for the attack. No one has ever sounded more lost and desolate than Zedek, singing the last line of “Bell” all alone, naked, a tumult of guitar noise still echoing in our ears, as she murmurs, “Do you remember what I’m waiting for?” No one has ever sounded fiercer or more triumphant than she, as she belts “Just relax! Just relax! Just relax!” in the drum-clattering coda to “Submerge.” No one has wailed, before or since, in exactly the same way that Zedek does in “Power Failure,” as she exhorts her listener to “Find the switch.” The bleakness that pervades Come emanates mostly from Zedek’s voice, and it is very bleak, indeed.

Yet there is also a defiance in these tracks, a sense that desperation can be subsumed in lush, lyrical layers of guitar (“Brand New Vein”), in surging tempo changes (“Submerge”) or in a ponderous swagger that’s as much metal-influenced as Nirvana ever was (“Dead Molly”). Very often in these songs, we are pulled out of the abyss by the guitars, shivering with whammy, fueled with relentless positive energy.

The re-mastered version of 11:11 includes the “Fast Piss Blues”/ “I Got the Blues” single, which were included on CD versions of the album, but not the vinyl. (Brokaw introduces “Fast Piss Blues” at the Vermonstress Festival recording on the second disc as “a song so new it doesn’t even have a name yet.”) “I Got the Blues,” is striking in the way it unpacks the Rolling Stones’ influence on Come, showcasing the way that this latter band’s dual-guitar, twining 12/8 blues progressions are like Richards/Taylor’s. Come’s version is simultaneously heavier and more translucent, the guitars cascading over one another, commenting on each other, creating nearly accidental harmonies and dissonances. It works without the softening of country-ish bends and twangs, without the embellishments of horns, stripped, stark and relentless.

The second disc of the reissue is taken up with a live recording of Come’s set at the aforementioned Vermonstress Festival in Burlington, Vt., in October 1992. The first thing you notice is that the sound is rougher and less beautifully balanced. One guitar sounds closer than the other, and you hear the drums and bass more than on the proper recording (and more, perhaps, than you really should). Yet the intensity is undeniable and Zedek channels a primal, banshee-ish vibe. The whole aura is way more punk than the album cuts, the nearly orchestral density of Zedek and Brokaw’s guitar work (think of the density of early Dinosaur, but with two guitars doing different things) pared back to more conventional rock terms. Yet, as a document of one of the 1990s most harrowing live experiences, it’s quite powerful. In addition to the live material, the reissue is nicely supplemented with photos, lyrics and essays by Everett True, Jay Hinman and Rembert Stewe (of Glitterhouse who attended the Vermonstress Festival).

After one more album, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Come lost its rhythm section. Zedek and Brokaw continued on through 1998, recording two fine albums, Near Life Experience and Gently Down the Stream, but never quite matching the turbulence and fury of 11:11. This is one of the best albums of the 1990s, restored at last to its rightful glory.

By Jennifer Kelly

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