Coma Cinema's newest album deals in shorter, darker, and more concentrated bursts of songwriter Mat Cothran's feel-bad indie-pop.
Posthumous Release, the newest from Mat Cothran’s Coma Cinema project, is a culmination of both his earlier work as Coma Cinema and his more recent material with the raw, stripped down Elvis Depressedly. The songs here find Cothran returning to the higher fidelity production and fuller arrangements that set Coma Cinema’s aesthetic apart, while pulling in the deeper emotional resonance and tight, concentrated songwriting which made Elvis Depressedly such a satisfying, if underrated, next conduit for Cothran’s musical output.
The lean, gut-punch honesty of Posthumous Release forgoes the pop highs of Cothran’s most well-known prior release, 2011’s Blue Suicide, for a whole that is darker, sharper, and ultimately better than its forebear. What was once bright and erratic about his sound has been honed into bummed out nuggets of feel-bad pop that follows in the sad, compelling footsteps of Xiu Xiu, the Mountain Goats, and early Elliott Smith.
“White Trash VHS” is a simple, upbeat acoustic strummer that could be downright sunny, if not for its lyrics about demonic possession, a “poison afterlife," and dying as “the same fuckup as before.” This juxtaposition of lighter, jaunty musical themes and pop hooks with black (if often blackly humorous), depressing and occasionally occult lyrics is Cothran’s secret weapon here. “White Trash VHS” sets up a formula that recurs throughout the rest of the album, its musical tightness serving as a delivery system for Cothran’s singularly bleak worldview. Later in the album, a black metal throwaway lyric like “Satan kisses me gently” from “Burn a Church” becomes an undeniable pop earworm, and a line like “Fuck me in the graveyard” from “Satan Made a Mansion” can be singalong-inspiring in the right mood.
One of Posthumous Release’s most unabashedly pop moments comes in the form of the electrified guitar rock of “She Keeps It Alive". The song lends the record a driving energy that is crucial to keeping the album together despite its bummer subject matter. You could imagine slipping it into playlists, and not just the kind filled with sad indie-pop tunes. Its brevity makes it work best in the context of the album, although it’s easy to imagine this as a music video-worthy single, as well as a fairly compelling gateway drug into Cothran’s sizeable back catalog.
The aforementioned “Burn a Church", with its bubbling electronic loop and wavering mutant vocal effects, most hearkens back to the bigness of Blue Suicide, though the song’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics (“Satan / Kisses me gently / Get real / You’ll fall for anything”) and darkly funny approach mark it undeniably as more recent Cothran. It’s an immediate standout, simply because nothing else here sounds quite like it. Though about a half step from overkill, the over-the-top elements help it perfectly straddle the line between bleakness and mirth (as well as offering a distinct alternate to the mostly homogeneous sound of the rest of the album).
If there’s any drawback to the record, it’s that “fucking sad” is a difficult emotional state to maintain for any length of time, and even with its brighter musical touchstones, some aspects of its desolate character can seem garish when viewed in full sunlight. Depending on personal context, the moody contrarianism, self-destruction, and substance abuse that populate these songs can be read as off-putting, depressing, or downright self-indulgent. That fact does nothing to diminish their power under the right circumstances. It does, however, set limits for the album’s appeal, and means that even those who fall in love with the album probably won’t be blasting it at their next summer barbecue.
By wringing all of the excess out of his sound, Cothran has created something gnarled and concentrated that, though less pretty, is far more potent. In terms of commercial expectations, this record won’t rocket Coma Cinema to accessibility, but artistically, it might be the band's (and Cothran's) best outing to date.