AVATAR – Comets On Fire (SubPop)
Is there a doctor in the house? It sure looks like there’s one on SubPop’s design team. I’m crap at remembering song titles, but the scrawled tracklist on the back of “Avatar” is as impenetrable as what ends on the written word on my G.P.’s prescription pad (on the rare occasions I’ve dragged my lazy arse into her surgery, that is.) If it wasn’t enough when they shrunk album covers to the size of jewel cases, now they have to use badly-penned hieroglyphics to spell out the song titles. Anyway, here endeth the bitching – iTunes will eventually give me a read-out and it’s what’s on the silver disc inside that’s the important thing, right?

So t his is the fourth album for the Santa Cruz five-piece and the little I’ve heard of their output before now makes me think it’s not far removed from their stock-in-trade, although more subdued than the recent stuff. Where it’s all coming from is anyone’s guess. Hawkwind, Sonic Youth, the MC5 and the Butthole Surfers have all been mentioned as precursors. If you want to come up with comparators of your own to hang their hat on, be my guest. God only knows, a few people with opinions to value have name-dropped them in our Best of 2006 lists...

Seven songs in 70-something minutes might make “Avatar” seem like a thematic throwback to the dinosaur music of the ‘70s, but this is an altogether more harried (and harrowing) sound than anything any arena band dished up. Comets On Fire build soundscapes on layers of guitar, organic poly-rhythms and seemingly random electronic noises.
At least, that’s what goes down on the opening couple of cuts (which I decipher as “Dagwood Roast” and “Jay Brad”) before “Lucifer’s Memory” turns it all on its ear with its outwardly mellow pastoral balladry (at least until the feedback twist in the denouement.) “Holy Teeth” unleashes a guitar maelstrom and anguished vocal and rivals Dinosaur Jr at their noisiest (you can hear why Comets secured the coveted US tour support spot.) Intensity rules.
The extended instrumental “Soup Smoke” (?) is almost jazzy by comparison with a touch of “Marquee Moon” weaving through the guitar-line. You can read whatever you like into “Hatched Upon the Age” but right now I’m coming up with the second Blue Oyster Cult LP. These guys love a good build up – Getting There is Half the Fun - and the outro sounds like V-2 rockets in the London Blitz.

It's challenging and, by all accounts, deliberately, so. Such is the stuff of repeated listenings. That's why I’m not so much bemused by the music as compelled to dig deeper and play it all again. They’re hitting Australian shores in 2007 so if you’re a local, you might want to check them out in the flesh. And I got through the review without mentioning the word “psychedelic”.
– The Barman