The title Paperback Ghosts speaks perfectly to the literary, fiction-like qualities of David Feck’s songwriting and to the gently nostalgic side of his long-running band Comet Gain’s music. Lyrically and musically they often look back to move forward.
Paperback Ghosts, their seventh album, offers a perfect chance to witness, even indulge, in that. Ghosts haunt these songs. This is pop-rock music – and as melodic, jangly and occasionally crunchy as it is, there’s a persistent sense of the fading glow of daytime, the feeling that life is slipping away. The opening track, “Long After Tonite’s Candles Are Blown” describes an act of “holding on to life” which involves carrying memories around in our pockets, cherishing them, drawing every last bit of life out of them. With one portion of our brains always wondering what’s next; two songs on this album reference “heaven”.
The album cover photo of someone walking through fallen leaves plays into this wistful, autumnal feeling, as does the presence of the band’s new bassist, James Hornsey of the Clientele. That connection is perhaps more psychological for the listener than noticeable in the sound; though the bands don’t sound that similar, we associate his former band with this sort of feeling. His addition to what Fortuna Pop’s press release calls “a motley group of like-minded romantics,” while certainly musically important, feels spiritually significant to this recording, too.
The second song’s title, “‘Sad Love’ and Other Short Stories”, might have been another potential album title. The song opens, “The memory of it hits you / The loss of him still hurts you.” Memories still hurt, visceral in the present tense. Other song titles that speak to the hold of the past: “The Last Love Letter”, “Your Haunted Heart” and “Behind the House She Lived In”. The last one’s a spunky, punchy number sung by Rachel Evans. “Your Haunted Heart” has the great hook, “My map of the universe is your haunted heart”, a reminder that poetry is as key here as atmosphere. Feck’s ability to articulate these feelings – in words and also in his articulation of them (listen to the yearning in his voice in “Wait ‘Til December”) matches the motley crew’s ability to build a musical feeling around them.
The album has that general feeling that we’re all fading away, grasping at moments of life, but there’s also a lit spark, a pulse running through it all. The disc is stylistically more diverse than my description of the atmosphere may suggest. “Breaking Open the Head Part 1” turns up the guitars to get a bit garage-y, almost psychedelic. “(All the) Avenue Girls”, sung by Evans, is an upbeat citified pop number, far from those rustic fall photos, while not without its own worries and ghosts.
The last track “Confessions of a Daydream” takes a step aside from the rest of Paperback Ghosts to chronicle music-buying and daydreaming of the past. His slightly angry litany and the “funkier” groove of the song somehow reminds me of Television Personalities, Cornershop and Primal Screen while still not sounding that different from what’s come before it. Still, growing up and getting old is on his mind. While going through a mid-life crisis (rebuying music that reminds him of his youth), he’s also still wondering who he is, where he’s supposed to go next, what’s going on. That questioning never ends.
// Notes from the Road
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