Review : Comet Gain - Howl of the Lonely Crowd
PitchforkComet Gain are indie pop lifers, and not only because they're fast approaching 20 years of existence. The UK band's discography is a finely detailed and uncommonly honest document of lives lived through music, free of schmaltz and coated with lyrical nods to the records they admire most ("You can hide your love forever," goes Comet Gain's heartbreaking response to Orange Juice). "Jack Nance Hair", from 2009 compilation Broken Record Prayers, is a manifesto for people who love music to an almost religious degree: an outsider anthem reflecting scrappy, fallible humanity through a record's imperfections ("Young, free, and single/ Like the crack in the 45") and the comforting indifference of time through the turntable's ceaseless spin.
The group's sound, accordingly, is a shambolic collision between elements of dream pop, mod psychedelia, northern soul, and riot grrrl (guitarist Jon Slade cut his teeth in Huggy Bear). On The Howl of the Lonely Crowd, Comet Gain's first proper album since since 2005's City Fallen Leaves, singer/guitarist David Feck and his revolving-door lineup of musicians put a new twist on their incessant dialogue with their favorite artists: They recorded with one. Orange Juice's Edwyn Collins produced much of the album, which means Feck got to live out a fanboy fantasy. The new album also features collaborations with some of Comet Gain's contemporaries, such as Alasdair Maclean of the Clientele, as well as their heirs, including the Cribs' Ryan Jarman and Shrag's Helen King. Jarman and Brian O'Shaughnessy (whose credits go back to Primal Scream) lent additional production.
For the most part, Lonely Crowd finds Comet Gain up to their old tricks: paeans to impressive record collections ("Thee Ecstatic Library"), odes to cult heroes ("Herbert Huncke Pt. 2"), and wistful balladering ("In a Lonely Place"). The record's first few tracks, in particular, can stand respectably beside the band's strongest material, with jangling standouts like "The Weekend Dreams" and "Clang of the Concrete Swans". Side B gets bogged down by a few too many inert slow songs, but singer Rachel Evans swoops in to save the side with the "Ballad of Frankie Machine", a quintessentially British tribute to the protagonist of This Sporting Life that effectively channels the 1963 film's haunting mood....full text
PopmattersPretension in pop music is a difficult pill to swallow, no matter how sweet the corresponding sound. Perhaps this is why someone like Lady Gaga comes hard and heavy with the pretension in interviews and (to an extent) music videos, but doles out the pretension sparingly, if at all, in her songs. British indie-poppers Comet Gain, however, do not know how to control their pretentious urges. Musically, the band has been deft at creating perfect distorted pop trifles, but lyrics are another matter. Other indie-pop and post-punk bands, as well as smart films and books, are name-checked for no real reason other than to imply coolness. What’s more, album notes for a Comet Gain album pack as much know-it-all referencing of cool obscure things as four Manic Street Preachers albums.
Despite a six-year gap between latest release, Howl of the Lonely Crowd and 2005’s City Fallen Leaves, there is little difference in all things Comet Gain, save a major enhancement in production values. Orange Juice’s Edwyn Collins and longtime Comet Gain devotee Ryan Jarman of The Cribs are to thank for that. Jarman even contributed some vicious violin scrapings to a few tracks, most notably “An Arcade From the Warm Rain That Falls”, one of the album’s best songs. At their most successful, Comet Gain’s music is so inviting that the pretension becomes easy to overlook. You need not have seen or read This Sporting Life to grasp the lonely beauty of “Ballad of Frankie Machine”, a song named after the story’s protagonist. Likewise, one can stomp around their room listening to “Yoona Baines” without realizing it is named in honor of first Fall keyboardist and Blue Orchids co-founder Una Baines.
Beautiful lonely songs is not a recent addition to the Comet Gain oeuvre, and neither are distortion freak outs and spoken word tracks, both of which make an appearance on Howl…. The only real glimpse of progression comes on “Working Circle Explosive!”, which adds a bit of psychedelia to the distortion. While primary Comet Gain members (and vocalists) David Feck and Rachel Evans do little to improve upon past endeavors, they do add some more capable indie-pop songs—ones that either give your heartstrings a good yank or get your legs jimmying—to their catalogue. It may be a good time to give the spoken word track a rest though, as “A Memorial For Nobody I Know” adds no new intrigue to that mix and is, you know, a rather pretentious route to take....full text
DustedmagazineComet Gain is the oldest-fashioned band working in indie rock for two main reasons. First, it’s committed to the single. Broken Record Prayers, from 2008, collected a decade’s bounty of A-sides, B-sides and no sides that showed how such an entropic band used unpredictability to their advantage. Second, they serve as a reminder for when such a thing as a monoculture existed. “Quintessentially British” is something that gets said pretty often. What people are talking about is a trust in the cultural institution that is pop music to put forth the best experience possible for all to share. The Beatles and the BBC are part of it, and so is that scene in A Clockwork Orange where Alex goes record shopping. Even dystopian kids can find common ground in music.
Insert platitude about the Internet disrupting both these things in one fell swoop. And it’s also where I say that Howl of the Lonely Crowd does not operate by the same industry rules that govern the race to the nether regions of the music blog Big Bang and the world of leaks, digital exclusives, and social media properties. This is an album in a platonic sense, crafted around a clutch of real hits that were made for group enjoyment on the radio, not just for headphones in coffeehouses. And, like every Comet Gain album that’s come before, it succeeds.
The secret is really an understanding of context. Every song builds on the previous through revision, repetition, or referentiality. The first two go hand in hand, and are my personal favorites. Over time, songs receive new drafts, or fragment and appear in entirely new compositions. The main revised text you might recognize here is “Herbert Huncke Part 2.” “Part 1” is originally a single from 2009, with proto-punk rough edges that leaned too heavy on Lou Reed. Lines like “You motherfucker where is my bread / You’ll get it off my eyes when I’m dead” were unconvincing as both a threat and an observation of street life, which are necessary to make that kind of thing work. Fast-forward three years and that problem is fixed with a slickly aggravated take that runs closer to a Stones number at their bluesy best. Bandleader David Feck sounds like a force, and when he so casually walks through a trick being flipped in just two lines (“You suck, for a buck / Then you shoot, you shoot it up”), he is at his darkest, most poetic best....full text
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