CD Review – Comets on Fire “Blue Cathedral”

Comets on Fire
Blue Cathedral
Sub Pop

Grade: B+

Hokey phrases such as “the soundtrack of our lives” often lends themselves to albums that seem to parallel other factors in one’s life. Last year, it may have been Outkast’s latest splash, accompanying listeners to class, or maybe it was getting-ready music for going out. Comets on Fire’s Blue Cathedral is the soundtrack for the pulpy gray matter in life that can’t be seen and hardly felt, constantly on the periphery. Somewhere between sub consciousness and absurdity, the album bounces around fictitious constellations while screaming through an Echoplex, searching for a wormhole into a parallel universe.

The Echoplex, a delay and echo device, is manned by lead singer Noel Harmonson, who uses the vocals as another instrument and much less as a forum for lyrics. This method is familiar to Sigor Ros fans, not to mention the countless punk bands whose spewing style was more about the spew itself. Harmonson is the space-rocker of this genre, complimenting the band’s psychedelic screed as much as he does with cosmic hi-cups and gaseous swirls throughout the universe. Besides the frenetic tirade of the drums and bass is the continuing distinction of the VOX organ in conjunction with guitar distortion.

Comets of Fire has two speeds that change only when it’s most important to do so. The first is what they’re known for, which is carnival-on-fire speed. In psychological terms, this first pace is like an approach-avoidance issue, inviting first-time listeners to run with the band, yet all the while reminding the uninitiated that they’re merely of their own planet, and not of the band’s. The second tempo is a new approach for Comets on Fire, which can be understood as a carnival-on-the-moon aesthetic, most beautifully portrayed in the deliciously titled “Pussy Foot the Duke.” The song is a more arpeggio-oriented take on something like the second half of Clapton’s “Layla,” and is primarily vox-driven until a meandering piano decrescendo. This new, subtler approach is hopefully only the beginning of the band’s new direction, not because it happens to be more accessible, and not because the more rockin’ stuff isn’t great freaking out music, but simply because “Pussy Foot the Duke” is unequivocally beautiful in its wallowing sadness.

Most of the rest of the album is crazed freak-out music, some songs better than others, although one should never count a song out on this album. “Whiskey River” first seems like more noise, but then a guitar seems to break, introducing a distorted siren after a few heavy jams. The listener realizes those jams are part of a heterophony previously unnoticed. “Brotherhood of the Harvest” combines the slow and the fast into some mutated Pink Floyd incarnation, like some unidentifiable entity becoming self-aware for the first time.

“Blue Tomb,” the last track, carries a stand-offish mentality that seems to reveal strength in a time of loss. Droning guitars continue to whine like some half-articulate professor stuck in a death trip, waiting to wake up. Rhythm cages this distortion, which gives in to weaker notes as Harmonson’s incomprehensible echo makes sense of defeat.

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