Catchy hooks, male/female vocals in plenty, just the right balance of storming and melodic guitars, some simple goofiness, on Kill Rock Stars—sounds like the quintessential indie album, yes? Well… it is.
And that is why it is quite annoying.
Comet Gain’s seventh full length (but only the third since the band’s schism in 1999) City Fallen Leaves, is irritating because it is a classic case of the indie band with a great record collection that turn out a pastiche of music past. Now, don’t get me wrong—there is no problem with recycling, with influences, with roots. All music is certainly historical. But what Comet Gain lack is hunger. There is no urgency, no overriding, destroying passion; this is a work merely content with being.
But can being be bad? Straight, intelligent pop can’t be a bad thing on the face of it, can it? Well, of course that all depends on you, the listener, and your subjective taste. But what City Fallen Leaves does is read and sound like is a hipster’s guide to music. It is PopArt—without the gallery dissertation. Comet Gain is a perfect postmodern band—self-conscious (“I love the photographs of photographs”), loaded with notable and varied references (Silverlake, The Supremes, The Chills, Raymond Chandler), and contributing little beyond the immediate moment.
Taken in isolation, or in a larger, different context (like, say, their twice referenced medium of a mixtape) many of these individual songs would stand—and perhaps even be strong numbers—such as the wistful melancholy of “Days I Forgot to Write Down”, “Fingernailed to You” (sung by Rachel), “One More Summer Before I Go” or the amusing amalgamation of indie pop “Your Robert!” (Small Faces meets Beatles meets Go-Betweens). But in their home environment on Leaves, amidst a barrage of knowing humor and hip musical quotes, these kids come off as too cool to feel.
There is a good deal of precision on this album, for it surely takes fine crafting and great skill to mold and shape such pop tunes. And there is also plenty of passion—but passion for the aesthetic, for the image of music.
We get a nice refrain on the LP’s simply melodic, acoustic driven tenth track, as singer David Feck repeats “I will try to be happy”, that could be heard and repeated as intimate Zen, but here comes off as the recitation of a song lyric. And the insincerity is hammered home by the song’s title: “Draw a Smile Upon an Egg”. What could suture a listen into this world of personal mantras more affectingly than a bit of faux beat psychedelia?
City Fallen Leaves is aesthetically quaint: decidedly indie sound, great melodies, street cred to spare. Though lyrically it leaves much to be desired, the album closer, “Ballad of a Mix Tape” contains two brilliant lines: the first one is a couplet that captures the emotional resonance of the great art of mixtapes. “Mixtapes are memories/ For unseen histories.” The other great line of that song is a summation of Leaves:
“We found the sound in the underground/ We felt so proud to be underground/ But something is missing…”