Is it possible to make an album full of decent songs without making a good record? Santa Cruz, California’s heavy-psych quintet Comets on Fire answers that question on their third album, Blue Cathedral, which comes up short after a number of interesting moves.
Comets on Fire comes out flying with “The Bee and the Cracking End,” a nearly eight-minute-long song built on a wall of heavy, fuzzy bass, crashing drums, Echoplex-affected guitars (Noel Harmon’s sole role is manipulating the sound device) and Ethan Miller’s howling, Echoplex-affected vocals (presumably covering bees and cracking eggs) before a twangy, surf-like interlude breaks things up. “The Bee” isn’t the most pleasurable song, but it’s a striking and suspicious start.
Up next is “Pussy Foot the Duke,” a mellow, piano-driven instrumental that is the complete opposite of its predecessor. Eventually the song starts cooking into a whirling swirl of guitars, but when it does it’s a wankfest. The track’s worth smoking a bowl to, though, but should be avoided during an anxiety attack. “Whiskey River” starts off with some playful high-pitched harmonics (that sound like they were torn right out of an early Pere Ubu recording, but whatevs) before settling into the over-powering psychedelic whomp established on “The Bee and the Cracking End” and then welding itself into the sort of free-jazz skronk the Stooges indulged in on Fun House, their second (and perhaps best) LP. Comets on Fire rips a lot of people straight off, but at least it’s only in bits and they have good taste in who they’re jacking. A good collage is better than a shitty piece of “real” art.
“Organs,” a two-minute instrumental interlude and an understated highlight, segues into “The Antlers of the Midnight Sun,” a halfway point between the wall of sound on “The Bee and the Cracking” and, saxophone wailing away, the Funhouse-style skronk on “Whiskey River.” It’s at this point, though, that the problem with Blue Cathedral becomes readily apparent: These guys can move a song, write a song, jam out on some crazy-ass shit, but they have no rhythm for album composition. Each song on is placed haphazardly next to the other, like toys piled outside a child’s crib. Each of the eight tracks is well and good — on a mixtape of similarly loud rawk or perhaps at a sweaty Comets on Fire show. But the whole is not equal to the sum of its parts.
“Brotherhood of the Harvest” builds an eerie, haunted house-like vibe around what sounds like a Farfisa keyboard, some noise and Miller’s howls. But it’s not enough to rescue an album that by this time has spun out of control and into the abyss.