Occasionally it feels like Chris Brokaw is duking it out with Dave Pajo to see who can guest on the most records by various indie-rock luminaries. Brokaw is most famous for his work with slowcore legends Codeine and balls-out rockers Come. But he’s also jammed with Thurston Moore, Evan Dando and the New Year. He even played drums for G.G. Allin on a few early singles. On Canaris, his fifth solo album, he lays down some introspective instrumental passages that are mostly rendered on an acoustic guitar.
The album begins affably, with Brokaw picking out some pensive melodies. But deep in the heart of Canaris is the title track, a heroic slab of treated drone rock that sounds like Brokaw has been inhaled by a colossal black hole and is performing as all the atoms in his body slowly separate. At other times it sounds like he’s cleaving through a colossal piece of metal with an industrial power saw. It’s the type of song that needs to be played at punishing volume, and it undoubtedly takes Brokaw down some divergent paths when he plays it live.
For the faint of heart, Canaris also has plenty to offer. Opener “Exemptive” is a soft and summery number that mirrors Ben Chasny’s work with Six Organs of Admittance. The second song, “Drink the Poetry of Celtic Discipline,” which was originally done by French black metal band Vlad Tepes, makes for an unlikely cover. Brokaw gallops through the introduction to the song, again choosing to use an acoustic guitar and no other instrumentation. The track, which is almost 13 minutes long, sometimes dips into introverted finger picking, and it clearly sounds like Brokaw is enjoying himself. How else to explain a lengthy acoustic take on a track originally performed by a band named after Vlad the Impaler?
Canaris is an album of two halves, and Brokaw dispenses with the relatively straightforward acoustic plucking after the fourth song, “Sanguinary.” At this point the album is consumed by the monolithic 18-minute sturm und drang of “Canaris,” with Brokaw only providing brief respite via the 40-second-long closing track, “Exempted.”
The guitarist already has a number of other projects bubbling to the surface, including a tantalizing on-again-off-again reunion with Thalia Zedek in Come, another solo album (this time with vocals) and an upcoming record with the New Year. In the meantime, Canaris fills a satisfying gap that falls somewhere in-between the comatose blackout of Sunn O))) and the genteel psychedelic folk of Keith Wood’s Hush Arbors.