You may remember The Comas as the slightly wobbly, late '90s Chapel Hill band that surrounded stolen alt.country structures and sounds with Pavement-swiped instability. Or perhaps you recall those Comas as the burgeoning Brooklyn-via-Chapel Hill pop band whose second disc for Yep Roc, Conductor, perked a slight national buzz because its mammoth, Lips-ish pop lift and its function as frontman Andy Herod's documentary of his break-up with blonde Dawson's Creek star Michelle Williams. Led constantly by the mercurial Herod through frequent line-up shifts, The Comas have been looking for their identity since sometime around 1998.
Now, almost a decade into their existence, The Comas have finally made an album—Spells, their fourth but first for major indie Vagrant—that stakes an identity: This is an expulsion from a confident, strident young rock band, and Herod seems as if he's getting over the stuff that's kept getting him down. On "Hannah T," the band's loudest track yet, he's still lamenting some girl. But, at track's end and tired of shouting, he just moans, sighs and walks away. He alludes to escapist fantasy and even castigates the heavy hand of both the divine and parental, harmonizing over a shoegazer gauze of bass and guitar with Nicole Gehweiler, shouting "Spun light from a cynic's mind and hung tight while the wasted light shines." If Herod's not done with this shit, he sounds like he wants to be. The band follows suit, newly powerful and able beneath Bob Racine's saturated, theatric production: They're as lush and wide on weeper "Thistledown" as they are charging and convincing on the perfect "Come My Sunshine."
Sure, Spells isn't the triumph anyone had imagined, and it probably won't make The Comas famous (at least not yet): They're still biting hard at fairly obvious influences for five late-20s indie rockers, and, lyrically, Herod still falls for lazy, mundane end rhymes and leans on production and repetition to pick up the slack when he's out of things to say. But, given the extenuating circumstances of Conductor's popularity, Spells isn't nearly the letdown some expected as a successor. It feels rather like a fresh start full of bold blood and renewed energy from a guy who could barely pace his way through lines like "Every time I think about a zero, it's me with my eyes exed out with a Sharpie" three years ago.
Welcome back, man, and thanks for bringing a band: This will do just fine.