When I was younger, I made a mixtape comprised entirely of closing songs from some of my favorite albums. It started off with Sonic Youth’s “Master-Dik” (meaning the first lyric you heard after popping in the cassette was “One two one two one two titty/ I know every nook and cranny in New York City,” a stroke of goddamn genius on my part) and included essential closing tracks by Pavement (“Fillmore Jive”), Le Tigre (“Les and Ray”), the Replacements (“Here Comes a Regular”) and bunch of others before wrapping up with my favorite closing song of all time, Olivia Tremor Control’s “NYC-25.” (Full track listing available upon request, by the way.)
Of the roughly eight jillion mixtapes I made between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, that one probably came to be my most cherished. And the reason is because, well, last songs just feel different than other songs, y’know? There’s a lot more riding on them, a lot more at stake. At their best, they can carry the entire emotional weight of an album on their backs, no sweat. I haven’t listened to that last-song tape in ages, so I have no idea how well or poorly it’s held up. All I know is it sounded pretty monumental echoing through my sensitive teenage ears.
City Fallen Leaves is the first proper album I’ve heard that sounds like that mixtape. Starting from the second track, the perfect “Days I Forgot to Write Down,” every song feels like it could be the album’s last; the emotional burden each one bears is palpable. Comet Gain is a veteran British rock band that’s never quite made it big with either the critics or the public. Now, I don’t claim to have any idea whether City Fallen Leaves will be the band’s swan song. But, as it lurches from chaotic speed-punk to sweet power pop to gorgeous melancholic balladry and back again, the album sure seems like it could be Comet Gain’s grand finale, a pissed-off kiss-off to the London scene that nurtured it and the larger world that never figured out what to make of it.
Since rock ‘n’ roll is unquestionably a Youth Music (what, you didn’t know that?), countless songs out there celebrate the joyous aimlessness of being young, falling in love for the first time, et cetera et cetera. Surfing and shit. But older, wiser rockers such as the members of Comet Gain know that the years beyond youth are significantly less fun-fun-fun – more like one existential crisis after another. Unless they are supremely well-adjusted (or well-off – thanks Mom and Dad!), most people’s post-college years are haunted by the bitterest type of nostalgia, remembrances of things past and things gone forever. “Days I Forgot to Write Down” is a catalog of those things. Its wistful narrator ruefully looks back through a “fog of friends,” trying to recall his youthful best-of-times, knowing they can never be again: “And the kids in the club are all sitting in pubs/ Still looking for love/ As if that was enough.”
Youth has always been great fodder for pop music because it necessarily skirts nasty issues such as mortality and responsibility: We’re young and beautiful and aimless; someday we’ll make our mark on the world, but that’s some day; right now let’s dance! And hey, I’m not knocking those songs, I love those songs. But when youth runs out, the realization kicks in that making your mark on the world requires some serious hard work and commitment. City Fallen Leaves documents that moment of comprehension. One crucial mid-album track asks “Is this the simple life? Is this the only life?” The frustration in those words is obvious, as is the anxious stasis in these, from the same song – “Should I go out tonight? Should I stay inside? Should I stay and fight, or turn out the lights?” The title of that song: “The Punk Got Fucked.” Indeed. Sometimes song titles say it all. “Bored Roar.” “Gone Before We Open Our Eyes.” “This English Melancholy.” “Just One More Summer Before I Go.”
Or how about this one: “The Ballad of a Mix Tape.” After an album comprised entirely of final songs, the actual final song charts the throwaway detritus – fanzines, 45s, mixtapes of course – of a rock ‘n’ roll life imperfectly lived. The music keeps building and building, climaxing like a great last song should. Then lead singer David Feck triumphantly shouts “We felt so proud to be underground!” before concluding (acknowledging?) that things done changed: “Something is missing/ and something is gone.”
Had this album been released five or six years ago, I doubtlessly would have included “Ballad” on my closing-song mix tape. But it wouldn’t have had the same effect that is does now, because that song (like all the great songs on City Fallen Leaves) is about that terrible great awakening that all people face as they mature – namely, it’s time to wise up, time to either shit or get off the john. Comet Gain shits. It’s quite an achievement.
“Why I Try to Look So Bad” MP3 (Right Click Save As)“Skinny Wolves” MP3 (Right Click Save As)