Pretension 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.
Overall, Howl… never reaches the indie-pop heavens that City Fallen Leaves—with its Kill Rock Stars liner notes and paeans to mixtapes—came close to reaching. Comet Gain have yet to maintain the balance of skill and mystery needed to make a listener look beyond the noise and seek out what is being referenced in their songs. Yet we can’t expect every band to save lives, and it is fine to have a band that, in spite of their name-checking, is consistent in their production of capable, easy to swallow indie-pop sounds. Comet Gain is that band, and they make the middle sound like a glorious place to be.