Comets on Fire

Record review

Phases & Stages

Comets on Fire

Avatar (Sub Pop)

Comets on Fire have finally gotten a handle on their big, hot noise. Avatar, the band's third full-length, sparks up immediately with the churning of "Dogwood Rust," complete with a patented Comets on Fire freak-out/breakdown at the end. Singer/guitarist Ethan Miller's vocals have become more focused, descending into a blues croon rather than a sandpaper peyote howl, and you can usually understand what he's saying. The songs on Avatar have also taken noticeable shape since 2004's explosive, Echoplexed Blue Cathedral. While the extend-o-jams are still scratching at the gate, hushed vocal melodies and piano parts find the San Francisco quintet visiting Big Pink on the lilting, rapturous "Lucifer's Memory." In the interim since Cathedral, almost all of the band members have been involved in other projects (Ben Chasny's ongoing Six Organs of Admittance; Miller's jammy Howlin Rain; the Seventies pop of Utrillo Kushner's Colossal Yes), so it makes sense that Avatar sounds like all of those packed into one scorching fireball. The controlled chaos of "Jaybird" absolutely smokes, leveled by the lyrics "We hit the air like feathers blowing south"; the filling-rattler "Holy Teeth" comes closest to CoF's lunatic fringe, though the song could use less of Miller's larynx-throttling scream. Closer "Hatched Upon the Age" lends what appears to be a soft closing, but as Kushner's lonely piano lines approach re-entry, the whole thing explodes, leaving only acid-washed feedback and charred choogle. And then, abruptly, it's over. Solid and gaseous, dark and light in all the right places, this is the Comets' brightest so far.

****

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