Comets on Fire Blue Cathedral

[Sub Pop; 2004]

Styles: noise, experimental rock
Others: Hair Police, Flaherty-Corsano, Mike Shiflet, Tony Conrad

I don't normally encourage this, but bear with me for a minute. Skip to the final track, "Blue Tomb" from Comets on Fire's Sub Pop debut, Blue Cathedral. Fast-forward approximately 7 minutes and 40 seconds in. Now collapse onto the ground and wait for the drums to rumble into a tribal beat. The rhythm guitars will start to kick in just as the Echoplex blasts waves of noise into the speakers. Just when you think that it can't get any better, Ethan Miller's lead guitar enters and closes the track with a blistering solo. What you are listening to is the finest musical moment of 2004.

Great bands are the ones that keep you guessing, and Comets on Fire are indeed a great band. The obscure Northern California group garnered a bit of buzz with their 2002 sophomore release, Field Recordings from the Sun on the tiny Badabing! label. But despite that release's perfect mix of psychedelic mayhem with a lazy California vibe, nothing really signaled the progression the band would make on Blue Cathedral.

You might say that Sub Pop Records really has an ear for talent. It's hard to explain how you would progress on a rather straightforward psychedelic sound that Comets on Fire have perfected with their previous releases, but even as the album begins, you can tell you're going to get something special. On the opening track, "The Bee & the Crackin' Egg," the band balances perfectly between cleaning up their sound while still keeping the production raw and gritty. The vocals are the same warbled freak outs from the past, but the music takes unexpected directions. Midway into the song, the band delves into a surf-rock interlude complete with whammy bar that wouldn't have been out of place as background music in Pulp Fiction.

The addition of organs and saxophones on "Pussy Footin' the Duke" and "Whiskey River" blend in perfectly with the thick Sabbath-esque basslines of Ben Flashman and the pulverizing drums courtesy of Utrillo Kushner. On the chaotic "The Antler of the Midnight Sun," the band channels "Fun House" by The Stooges with a wild saxophone rant over a fury of guitar fretwork.

Comets on Fire wear their influences on their sleeves but still keep things completely fresh. The finale to this monster of an album is the previously mentioned "Blue Tomb," a ten minute epic track that fits in perfectly with a summer winding to a close. The band just play their guts out but inadvertently create a sense of atmosphere within the music. Their sound previously evoked chaos and destruction, but on Blue Cathedral, Comets on Fire stomp on the notion that they are a one-trick pony, creating a masterwork that music fans will be listening to for some time in the future.

1. The Bee & the Crackin' Egg
2. Pussy Footin the Duke
3. Whiskey River
4. Organs
5. The Antler of the Midnight Sun
6. Wild Whiskey
7. Brotherhood of the Harvest
8. Negresco
9. Death Squad
10. Blue Tomb