Review: The Comas, Spells
The Comas are a quintet from Chapel Hill NC composed of founding members Andy Herod and Nicole Gehweiler (guitar and vocals for both), along with Matt Sumrow (keyboards), Jason Caperton (bass) and Nic Gonzales (drums). Herod wrote all the tunes. “Spells” is their fourth album and first on the Vagrant label.
They are basically an alt rock band that plays music that is hard to classify – in a good way. On “Spells”. they tend to favor heavy fuzzed guitars, spacy keyboard effects, anthemic choruses and strong vocals from Herod and Gehweiler. One of the most notable things about “Spells” is how varied it is. This isn’t a timid band, they try many things and they carry most of them off quite well. Album opener “Red Microphones” is a stick-in-your-head rocker with heavy drums and guitar. Second track “Hannah T.” opens in a similar straightahead rock mode that ends up leading to a coda that has Herod screaming the lyric “Search and destroy” as singer and song melt down into chaos. At this point you think you’ve got a noisy rock band that may be looking back a bit too much to the quiet-loud thing. But the melt down at the end of “Hannah T.” ends with, what sounds to me, like a resigned sigh as if Herod was thinking “Oi. Enough of that”. They then move into “Now I’m a Spider” featuring Gehweiller’s vocals which is the kind of yearning slow tempo number that Snow Patrol might do if they put more testosterone into their guitar playing. The whole album is like that. As soon as you think you have a handle on them they surprise you with something new – such as the Beatles-like passage that appears completely unexpectedly in “Thistledown”. It’s a good trick because it holds your interest and makes for compelling listening. It doesn’t all work. “New Wolf”, for example, is a fairly run-of-the-mill guitar driven rocker that is competent but unexceptional. And album closer “After the Afterglow” aims for a coming down at the end vibe but mainly hits plodding and lugubrious. On the whole, however, The Comas hit more than they miss.
A second thing to notice about The Comas is that Herod is adept at song structure. These are almost all well designed songs with more than their fair share of hooks. “Light the Pad” has the kind of repeating chorus that you want to come back to again and again and when the group comes to a full band stops on the 1st and 3rd beats every other time through it just nails the song. Very nicely constructed music.
Well built songs, variety and surprises, attractive vocals, and good hooks. What’s not to like? If you enjoy alt rock with these characteristics, or would like to open your ears and give it a try, check “Spells” out.
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