If you traveled in certain circles in the ‘90s, in particular the kind that tipped towards the inward gaze of slowcore and the knotted tussle of indie then you’re likely already well versed in the works of Chris Brokaw. The artist spent years in the ranks of Codeine (drums) and Come (guitar), punching double on his indie-cred free coffee card with releases on Sub Pop and Matador in the same year. Throw in aughts favorite The New Year and a stint on Touch & Go and that indie rock bingo sheet is rapidly filling up. More recently Chris has been laying down down high quality solo spins that brush post-rock, jazz, and American Primitive, scoring for films, and occasionally flaying some brains in RSTB faves Charnel Ground alongside James McNew and Kid Millions. Just off the release of his excellent new LP for VDSQ Brokaw found time to kick in a pair of faves for the Hidden Gems series, giving the nod to experimental guitarist Kevin Drum’s run of CD-rs in 2013. Check Chris’ picks below.
Brokaw notes, “Between roughly 2011 and 2015 I got really into the music of Kevin Drumm. I’d enjoyed some of his more famous albums like Sheer Hellish Miasma on Mego or Imperial Horizon on Hospital Productions, but around 2011 I discovered that he was churning out a huge amount of music that seemed almost totally offgrid. Besides the various albums released on lp and cassette by ‘more visible labels’, he was making cdrs of new music in limited batches on his own label/non label. The covers were cardboard foldovers, with very simple art or text. They came in various colors. They seemed influenced by cards children might make — plain, funny, occasionally with gothic fonts. They came in plastic bags with sticky tops that were sort of a pain in the ass to use over and over.”
“I became pretty obsessed with his music,” continues Chris. “I kept track of what he was up to; he seemed to be putting out at least one new thing a month, and I bought everything I could, generally directly from him. We had met once in a bar, and had a few friends in common, but I basically approached him as a fan, in a hopefully not-too-embarrassing-to-either-of-us sort of way.
“I didn’t always like everything he did,” admits Brokaw, “but I really liked a lot of it, and in particular I liked two cdrs called 1983 and Quiet Nights. His work moves through different strata of what could loosely be called ambient/electronic/noise; 1983 and Quiet Nights are both on the more quiet or still end of the spectrum. 1983 feels almost absent; constantly hinting, way off in the distance, at an arrival that barely comes. It felt fearlessly vague, peripheral; not just fearless, but making a point. Quiet Nights was, maybe simply, the best of his works at sculpting something ominous and 3-D in a patient, long term form. I thought these albums had an almost overwhelming beauty to them; their subtlety and forbearance belied a wisdom about the world that I was rarely finding anywhere else. I’ve concluded, for myself, that music is the best and most complete art form that exists; and these cdrs felt as good as anything going.“
“It felt baffling, weird, and sort of wrong to be in on something so grand and beautiful that seemingly no one was talking about, that almost no one in the world knew existed. How could I explain to people how much this art moved me, while feeling so cold about so much that so many others were praising as great? ( I wont name names. You know which other stuff!). This is an old/classic question for anyone into more obscure art, not at all unique; but it felt in sharper relief than usual here. I mean, nobody knew about this stuff, including people I knew who liked his music.”
Brokaw ponders and notes, “I don’t feel any satisfaction in being in on something that’s a tiny, invisible secret for a privileged few. I did feel satisfaction sending Kevin money every few weeks; I felt joy watching an artist flourish. I felt emotions, as Jimmie Dale Gilmore once said, “from music that you can’t feel any other way” listening to it. My seeming inability to share it didn’t detract; I guess it confirmed, for better or worse, how solitary enjoyment of art can be.”
“In 2016 my life went through some dramatic shifts, he says, “I stopped buying music or keeping up with a lot. I had to focus elsewhere. More recently, I’ve returned to what Kevin’s doing. Of course he never stopped. His new 12″ on Sahko might be my favorite thing he’s ever done. But 1983 and Quiet Nights have a certain hold on me; like a lot of favorite records, redolent of a particular time and place (not always a good thing) and, maybe always, deep in a kind of private grotto (ditto).
Admittedly, though a few Drumm releases have appeared on the site (back in the Blogspot days), I too missed Drumm’s CD-r run. Thankfully the era of Bandcamp means everything old is new and these releases are both available direct from the aritst. If you feel like going down a Drumm rabbit hole, perhaps today’s the day. After a few hours spent in the isolation chamber with Kevin, be sure to rinse back to this plane of existence with a listen to Chris’ latest, End of the Night, which as found its way to the turntable more than once around here.
Support the artist. Buy it HERE.