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Comets on Fire, ‘Blue Cathedral’ (Sub Pop)

It seems almost tragic to think about a record as cosmically righteous as Comets on Fire’s Blue Cathedral in terms of terrestrial numbers. But let’s do the math. This is the Bay Area combo’s third full-length (not counting a slew of one-sided, limited-edition 12-inches). They have two guitar players, one of whom is Ben Chasny, who also records acid-folk vision-quests under the moniker Six Organs of Admittance. There is one person in the band who does nothing but man the Echoplex, an effects box that makes things sound “psychedelic”–you’d think he could double as a guitar player or pick up a tambourine, but apparently he’s too busy plotting our jump to hyperspace. Cathedral features four songs that are over five minutes long, and two that have the word whiskey in the title. Add it all up and you’ve got one of the best psych-rock records of our young century.

The Comets’ self-titled debut album and their sophomore effort, Field Recordings From the Sun, indulged in a level of noise pollution rivaled only by Japanese ear-terror outfits like High Rise (and perhaps the Indianapolis 500). By comparison, Blue Cathedral is downright pastoral. Sure, there are plenty of dangerously flammable rockers, mined from the same heavy vein that’s served bands from Blue Cheer to Mudhoney. And guitarist/vocalist Ethan Miller’s mostly indecipherable bad-trip wailing is still just another instrument lost in the maelstrom. But the Comets have style for light-years this time around, evoking genres of old (Crazy Horse country rock, Pink Floyd space-noodling) and making up a few new ones, like Wild West baroque pop (“Pussy Footin’ the Duke”) and Morricone surf (the second half of the seven-minute brontosaurus-stomp “The Bee and the Cracking Egg”).

Despite their newfound formal dexterity, Comets on Fire still play with punk-rock abandon. They’re all clearly black belts on their respective instruments, but you rarely get the feeling that you’re in the presence of Guitar Center employees or drum-circle devotees. They infuse their extended jamming, noise-rocking, and Echoplex-ing with enough DIY fervor to power a freight train. So forget the numbers. Just soak in their saucerful of secrets.