PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Comet Gain: Realistes

Doug Wallen

Comet Gain


Label: Kill Rock Stars
US Release Date: 2002-03-19

When fans and rock writers look at the career of Comet Gain, a bratty quasi-punk outfit born and bred on the streets of London, there is a tendency to divide the band's output into before-and-after halves.

Let me explain. Between 1993 and '97, Comet Gain released a few choice EPs and two beloved albums, Casino Classics and Magnetic Poetry (the latter repackaged with extra tracks as Sneaky in the States), all on Britain's credible Wijja label. Marked by punchy horn/harmony arrangements and a mod-influenced rhythmic thrust, the band flirted with and usually encompassed strong elements of achy folk, distorted punk and baroque pop.

Renowned for exuding a quintessentially British charm, what with those working-class London slice-of-life tales sung in knotty accents, Comet Gain split its primary creative responsibilities between singer-guitarist David Christian (known sometimes as David Feck) and singer Sarah Bleach. While Christian brought a politically tinged, D.I.Y. punk sensibility to the band, Bleach was keener to craft whispery twee candy.

As is often the case, this aesthetic tug-of-war led to some of the band's most compelling material, torn between dueling shades of noisy angst and tasteful introversion. As is more often the case, the rift in songwriting styles grew until the Comet Gain lineup finally dissolved altogether. Bleach took most of the band with her to start Velocette, whose glossy pop songs have yet to live up to the buzz, while Christian was left on his own.

True to the aforementioned D.I.Y. spirit, he gathered different collaborators and launched a new era of Comet Gain. The fruits of this retooling came to bear with 1999's Tigertown Pictures, released in the U.S. on Kill Rock Stars, a label infamous for uncovering riot grrrl legends like Huggy Bear, Bikini Kill, and Sleater-Kinney.

The second coming of Comet Gain offers, predictably, a rougher and more urgent edge. Having ditched pop sheen for punk distortion, the band boasted lo-fi production and feisty anthems on Tigertown. Classic hooks and snide singing still carve out each song, but only after getting past a few layers of fuzz.

With his creative hands thus untied, Christian has been free to write some of the catchiest, sharpest tunes in Comet Gain's history. On Realistes, the band's second album for Kill Rock Stars since the lineup shift, the collision of wintry distortion with keen melodic sensibilities brings to mind San Francisco's acclaimed Aislers Set, who actually contribute handclaps here.

Riot grrrl iconoclast Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre) also shows up on Realistes, adding barely audible vocals to the Velvets-meets-Slits chaos of "Ripped-Up Suit". Other guests lend the occasional bit of brass or pedal steel, but it's the urgent chemistry of the now regular Comet Gain players that keep the sonic shrapnel glued together. Singer Rachel Evans is especially a good fit, matching Christian's earnest pipes at every turn.

Like all Comet Gain material, the album paints a visceral portrait of the London underground, as seen by such bittersweet veterans of the scene. "The Kids at the Club" kick-starts Realistes with a shot of youthful exuberance, recalling the social energy of early Bis singles (which also came out on Wiija, as a matter of fact). There is still a lot of unhappiness shot through the songs, though, as is clear in titles like "Why I Try to Look so Bad" and "Don't Fall in Love if You Want to Die in Peace".

On the former, Evans and Christian join voices for a defining line -- "And heaven is the closest thing to hell" -- before launching back into the lurching anthem. Christian is known for spiking his crunchy pop/rock with dark subject matter, and indeed, themes of death, God, drinking, and loss all peer out at some point.

All this angst is probably best summed up by "My Defiance", on which the man sings about how his heart is broken and his brain is "split in two". Still, he's always very aware of his wiry, witty song structures, as he announces "Here comes the chorus now" and later lists all of the things the song is about. A nice moment of pop magic comes with "She Never Understood", a spirited cover of the classic song by Biff Bang Pow, a British cult band led by Creation Records founder Alan McGee.

Grizzled though it may be, there remains a sense of optimism to Realistes, and not just in its hooky dancefloor charm. On the deceptively quiet "Carry On Living", Evans sings by herself, "So I'll be strong / And carry on living / So I'll be strong / And carry on dreaming". With her pipes toned down so much, it almost sounds like a lost Pastels single, which is a grand compliment, if you didn't know.

"Moments in the Snow" also finds Comet Gain grappling with life's elusive silver lining, and when Christian sings, "I'm beginning to see the light / I'm beginning to feel alright", it's enough reason to think that maybe redemption is just another album or two away. That's not to hope that Comet Gain will quit anytime soon, though, because we can always benefit from catharsis this catchy.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.