Noel Harmonson, the echo-electronics processing wizard who treats and adds atmosphere to the heavy psychedelic rock sounds of Comets on Fire, is concerned about the opinions of music critics because so many rushed in to support and praise this Oakland- and San Francisco-based bands last opus, 2004s Blue Cathedral. But where that album stuck its balls to the wall in a hellfire of raging retro-rock incineration, the five-pieces latest, Avatar, often prefers to calmly smoke a cigarillo while propping its snakeskin boots up on the fence between tenderness and brawn.
Much like the image the bands name brings to mind, Comets on Fire like to keep forging ahead, blazing new trails in their wake, and its safe to assume their fans will be open enough to embrace these changes, even if the notoriously fickle and single-minded music critics out there decide to opine otherwise.
"Every records been different than the record before, and thats the only thing thats kind of intentional, just us wanting to move in different directions, says Harmonson. "We incorporated a lot more of Utrillo [Kushners] piano, just because thats kind of what we started doing. We werent really feeling like we needed to write a new handful of totally raging rock songs because weve kind of done that a few times. The piano thing was introduced on Blue Cathedral, and we had a few new ones, and some of the other guitar-oriented songs [on Avatar] are just a little more earthy. The guitars are clean on a lot of songs on this record, its just like a weird direction. We knew we wanted to move in a different direction. I dont know if we knew it was going to turn out the way it did, but its really representative of what weve been jamming the last two years.
Their fourth full-length since forming in Santa Cruz in 1999, Avatar is not only a bold step in a new direction, but their most meticulously composed creative statement to date, effectively widening their sonic and songwriting palettes while keeping the heart and soul of the band (hard psychedelic rock riff-fests peppered with 60s garage and 70s prog influences) vitally intact. All things considered, Avatar took some time to create.
"We work really slow. On the one hand because were critics [of] ourselves and each other, were all five bullshit detectors to a degree, so in one way it sort of distils everything that we write, while on the other hand it also slows down the process a lot, says Harmonson. "Furthermore, we operate as almost a total democracy, like a five-person equal playing field situation where people will write parts and bring them in, but rarely does anybody bring a song in and have it written start to finish. Itll never stay that way; it always goes through some sort of overhaul through changes. We didnt want to rush anything, but were also all working day jobs, so its not like were spending five days a week of the last two years just messing around with songs.
Avatars stellar results were well worth the hard work. "Everybody loves it so far. Or at least theyre telling us that.