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Comet Gain - Howl of the Lonely Crowd

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Artist: Comet Gain

Album: Howl of the Lonely Crowd

Label: What's Your Rupture?

Review date: Jun. 20, 2011

Comet 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.

Along with returning to the band’s own material time and again, Comet Gain also can’t help but be drawn to a much wider history. Much has been, and will be, made of the band’s flaunting of esoterica. Herbert Huncke was the guy who coined the term “the Beat Generation,” “Yoona Baines” should really be spelled Una and was The Fall’s first in an ever-growing line of keyboardists, and “The Ballad of Frankie Machine” could either be about Richard Harris in This Sporting Life (probably) or Frank Sinatra in The Man With the Golden Arm (less likely, but better to think so). You could say this is some kind of cultural brinksmanship at best, or just intellectual dickswinging at worst, to which I’d say, good for them. In a time when listening to music is just a way to make sure no one can stump you, it’s good to have to work for the antecedent, or worse yet, ‘fess up to ignorance.

But that said, it also blows the referent’s relevance to the song way out of proportion. There are no prerequisites to enjoying a Comet Gain song. And knowing the inside joke does nothing to make the songs any better, per se. Yes, “Yoona Baines” has some similarities to more than a few Blue Orchids songs, another band that Una helped create, but her real usefulness is onomatopoeiac. It’s the perfect set of phonetics to make the chorus sound spooky.

This obsessive layering of meanings and rewrites is what buttresses the Comet Gain oeuvre, but it’s not all rock solid. Some of the most exciting moments are actually the weakest on the album, the rough drafts that could become hits in the future, or fade away as a worthwhile folly. In that sense, imperfection doesn’t just happen. It’s embraced. Take “Some of Us Don’t Want to Be Saved”: inconsistent, off-key, trite, and just generally a mess in terms of structure. Yet, the feeling is there. So are the chord changes, as well as the urge to sing along with the simplest rhyming couplets. By finding the lowest common denominator, what could have been terrible in anyone else’s hands becomes an unlikely sing-along for your drunkest, saddest times.

And then there are the hits. If you’ve ever heard “Jack Nance Hair” or “You Can Hide Your Love Forever,” you know what these are: moments of near perfection that require no tinkering and no description. “An Arcade From the Warm Rain That Falls” is not only one of the best pop songs of the year, but is without a doubt one of the best Comet Gain has ever written. From the orchestration to the surrealistically bittersweet overtones to the harmony on the last note in the chorus, this is an indestructible song that will defy obsolescence and long out live any of us. And isn’t it nice to know that there’s still a band out there who remembers what made pop music worthy of our obsession in the first place?

By Evan Hanlon

Other Reviews of Comet Gain

Broken Record Prayers

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View all articles by Evan Hanlon

Find out more about What's Your Rupture?

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