I’m the first one to applaud the recent resurgence of shoegazer-derivative and slowcore artists. For in my teenage years, I was clad in MBV T-shirts, Ride posters on my bedroom walls with Galaxie 500 records on the stereo. On their second LP, A Def Needle in Tomorrow, that lulling yet tuneful side of The Comas is quite appealing, yet when they seek to prove their Chapel Hill roots, the result sounds like a second-rate Superchunk, or much worse a third-rate Stereophonics.
The aptly named opener—how unfortunate—“Arena” plunges us straight into the depths of such Stereophonics-esque, stadium rock buffoonery. Brassy guitar, petty organ chords and a building drum beat dribble along for over two minutes before hitting a crescendo of which only the lighter waving masses would be fond. Powerful guitars and awkwardly distorted wailing vocals might work with a certain set, but this is terribly uninventive material. A shame really, because the next track, “Tiger in a Tower” is lovely. Seemingly straightforward, acoustic guitar weaves a subtle melody with a girl/boy vocals (unclear from the liner whether bassist Margaret White or keyboardist Nicole Gehweiler gets the praise), then a buzzing little sample, drum machine and a handful of loops arrive, forming a startlingly effective and unconventional pop song.
While “Wicked Elm” has touches of the Southern charm that propelled bands like Superdrag to cross-over success a few years back, the song must ultimately be faulted for its production. Vocalist Andrew Herod’s lovelorn wails provide a tasty hook, but otherwise the track seems lost amidst too many ideas, none fully realized. The organs are animated, and might be the track’s greatest strength, but producer Brian Paulson (Wilco, Superchunk, Slint) drowns them in uneven guitars as well as distracting high hat.
Meanwhile, “All Over the School” plays Southern cousin to upstate New York’s dynamic Mercury Rev. The vocals, draped with violin in all the right places, yearn and this time Paulson keeps the acoustic guitar well-situated in the mix, setting the melody without ever threatening the vocals. “Rancor” expertly captures malice of the dreary variety and is my favorite track of the eleven. “Tired” and its pulsing female-fronted vocals evoke the golden age of shoegaze. From those heights, A Def Needle in Tomorrow crashes disappointingly to earth, as unlike the aforementioned works, “Sister Brewerton” is only reminiscent of the worst Ride B-sides. “Sweet Sweet 69” shows potential in a Looper meets Mercury Rev vein, with odd hints of Brian Wilson tossed in for good measure, but unravels as the gibberish-chorus-cum-hook is too diffuse. The violin centered “Centipedes” is overly intellectual but lacks any real object. “Free Burritos”, as its name implies, would have been much more suited to a hidden track, to save the embarrassment of the listener’s desire for its instant obsolescence.
A Def Needle in Tomorrow leaves us at a sticky crossroads; a handful of graceful trackshinting at their influences and possessing the utility to expand from them—combined with a slew of songs as dull as oft-washed silverware from Ikea. The ideal solution for The Comas, I’m afraid, would have been a mini-LP.
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