Comet Gain – Paperback Ghosts

Comet Gain has reached the rarefied air of Spoon, the Mekons and Yo La Tengo – all bands that have sustained excellence for multiple decades, deftly navigated a wealth of stylistic evolution, and settled into a narrower range in their later years. Fans know pretty much what to expect from the London six-piece’s seventh album, but it’s the subtle shifts that bear scrutiny.

Leader David Feck said that he intended 2011’s Howl of the Lonely Crowd to have a fast side and a slow side (of course he’s the romantic throwback who still thinks in vinyl terms), but that he couldn’t help but write a couple more fast ones. On Paperback Ghosts Feck has inverted that balance. With retro cover art evocative of Camera Obscura or Belle and Sebastian, this is mood music for an October Sunday sunset – a breakup album not in the traditional sense, but one that ruminates on minute details and shared past experience. If Comet Gain hadn’t already named an album City Fallen Leaves, it would have been be the perfect title.

Feck has a penchant for writing killer singles, as he amply demonstrated on 2008’s Broken Record Prayers catch-all, and he certainly delivers again on this front – even if this batch sounds more like the Grant McLennan half of a very good Go-Betweens album rather than gritty punk/mod classics. Feck regularly turns over a handful of lead vocals to sweet-voiced Rachel Evans. Because of the compactness of her three tracks Evans’ contribution feels a shade less prominent, but they’re also among Paperback Ghosts’ liveliest and best. Her “Behind the House She Lived In” is part of a stellar opening salvo, and “Far from the Pavilion” perks up what threatens to become a second half swoon.

It’s unclear whether the departure of longtime guitarist Jon Slade is temporary – he’s the sole non-Londoner in the gang, and has been busying himself as a club DJ. Slade was the clearest link to Comet Gain’s Riot Grrl aspects, and it’s a chicken/egg question as to whether his absence is responsible for the gentler sound, or whether it’s the other way around. The uncharacteristically underwritten six-minute closer, “Confessions of a Daydream,” is the only track on which one could envision Slade playing a key role. It’s the nearest representation of Comet Gain’s aggro side but without his fearless guitar it’s more psychedelic smolder than full-on punk blaze.

Paperback Ghosts has more than enough high points to recommend it. Taken as a whole, however, it’s a half-notch below Comet Gain’s lofty standards – which could also be said for their long-running peers.

Comet Gain
Paperback Ghosts
[Fortuna Pop!]