Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Comets on Fire - Field Recordings from the Sun

Comets on Fire
Field Recordings from the Sun

AOTM #30, November 2002ce
Released 2002 on BaDaBing!
  1. Beneath the Ice Age
  2. Return to Heaven
  3. The Unicorn
  4. E.S.P.
  5. The Black Poodle

Note: Iggy Pop is not just a daft cunt – he’s a cruel corporate whore with the Nuclear Industry’s level of arrogance. To you, Mr. Osterberg, I scream: “When old twat rock’n’rollers have underachieved their way through the past twenty years, doing the cock-out routine and coming on like fitness freaks, their audience requires that they should do the honourable thing and croak.” But instead, in the face of no new songs and nothing whatever to say for the next twenty vacuuuuuuous orbits of the Sun, Herr LA Oster-fucking-berg-with-time-on-his-hands decides to cast his magical dipstick over the previous decades of genius in order to fuck up whatever he got right in the first place. Therefore, His Arrogance decides to take a BRICK-BY-BRICK (I’m trembling even typing the words) meets AMERICAN CAESAR (U-Wish) overview and add what informed its cod meaningfulness (and I’m talking about “Mixing the Colours”-you-fucking-legendary no-mark”) and welly several shovelfulls of that proto-Crud at the beyond insane genius of RAW POWER, thereby reducing its eight needle-jumping-out-of-the-groove toppier-than-top end brown trouser tracks to the level of a merely achieving 5-star Andy Gill Q Magazine review. Well, Pop, it seems to me that you HAVE a big bell-end because you ARE a big bell-end. And may the wheels of the industry which for so long rejected you crush you like a bug for so cluelessly destroying what informed our pre-punk ears – you suck… and I mean your own tadger. This Comets on Fire review is for you, half pint.

You’re Ugly & Your Mother Dresses You Funny

Hawkwind too hippy for you? Simply Saucer too drippy for you? The singer out of Pere Ubu just too fucking fat? So what if they was Rocket from the Tomb, and Peter Laughner wrote “Life Stinks, I hate the Kinks”; Comets on Fire are the new kids in town, and they’z better better better. Of course, two albums doesn’t mean this lot are about to sustain a long career in showbusiness (which still ain’t what the rock is about), but all of the above ancient hairies managed their place in our heart not through longevity and quality of side two’s, which all of them failed miserably at; but for such brazen sonic juxtapositioning that all of our poles got smoked down to the root and left us panting for more, be it by those main protagonists or by any passing rip-off merchants who thought they could ape it.

So, Comets on Fire deserve our gratitude (1) for their distillation of all the best rock riffs since High Rise’s take on Blue Cheer, and (2) – most of all - for adding to it that 70s Instant Stockhausen, nay that shrill atonal otherness which only Del Dettmar and Dikmik for Hawkwind, Ping Romany for Simply Saucer and Alan Ravenstine for the Ube ever managed to sneak past their lead singers (Even Eno never managed it in Roxy Music, being instead reduced by North Sea Ferry to a backing singer for at least half of FOR YOUR PLEASURE, before being cloned by Eddie Jobson for their rehash 3rd LP).
Here, the non-musician (remember when they were called that?) is a genius named Noel Harmonson, whose sole instrument is an ancient Echoplex, which takes up at least half of the Comets on Fire Sound. On the second record, he will foist upon us oscillators, intercom control panels, so-called ‘hippie drums’, chanting and even Jew’s harps. But just for this first LP, he’s making do.

U Watt?

Comets on Fire appeared last year [2001] with their debut self-titled vinyl. Their ‘singer’ Ethan Miller is also their (formidable and remarkably un-egotistical) guitarist, whilst their rhythm section of bass player Ben Flashman and [then] drummer Chris Gonzales make/made a sludgefest of rock-by-numbers as brilliantly hamfisted as Spiders Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey, or Gene Simmons and Peter ‘Beth’ Criss (of course, thereby granting themselves instant brotherhood with Makoto Kawabata’s Nishinihon). And this COMETS ON FIRE was a 4-track production right out of 1979 Chromeworld, housed in hand-painted and self-inserted sleeves from independent hell.
On the cover, Miller, Flashman and Gonzales stand in the distance staring at Noel Harmonson in the foreground, whose head has been replaced by junky electronics. Hey, and Harmonson probably did the surgery himself, as he’s still clutching said head in his right hand!
And, here on this LP, everything was louder than everything else, with hissss-torto-vocals, shock corridor mid range which wanted to be high end and low end which wanted to be mid range, and drums which wanted to be Metal Urbain’s drum machine. We are talking so sibilant and lo-fi here that it often gets too much so you have to put on some early Shockabilly for relaxation. Even their record company PR guy accurately called this first LP:

“Metamphetamine and schnapps-drenched hippie tunes take it straight into the sonic shit storm.”

A press release that kinda grabs you by the PooPoo, huh? Almost beats Keith Altham’s ‘Narcissus in Metamorphosis’ note of SCOTT 3. Make ya wanna listen? Yup, me too. And, like Les Rallizes Denudes, it doesn’t disappoint. Comets on Fire stuck a 4-track TEAC cassette machine in one room like Donald Ross Skinner did with DROOLIAN, but these suckers came out with the loudest record this side of the Cheer’s ‘Song Cycle’.
Next thing we know, they’z flagged down a passing hearse and supped on the dead remains of our lately passed and beloved Lord David Sutch, got themselves well bombed out on that goon’s pills, and speedily delivered an even better 2nd album, faultlessly-named (and itchy-with-self-understanding) FIELD RECORDINGS FROM THE SUN.

Wakka-wakka, as Fozzie Bear would say.
Be expectant, be very expectant.

Because gone is the extreme-just-to-be-extreme Ibiza sunburn of the first LP, to be replaced with the choicest melange of FUNHOUSE and HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN GRILL. Those first album turds on a bum ride have, by this second album, become spectral starchasers with Pausanius’ ticket to ancient truths. In just a few months, they’z gone from three foot six inch Austrolecipethicus types to divine six foot temple builders. Sonically, it’s a distance thing, like they’ve moved the horizon several miles back and parked a fjord in front of the microphone. But emotionally and psychically it’s the difference between UNKNOWN PLEASURES and CLOSER, and it’s the daring action of forward-thinking Motherfuckers.
So there you go. Obvious, immediate, totally absorbing – buy them, steal them, burn them, both albums are a Must Have. Anyway, I figured I’d better push FIELD RECORDINGS FROM THE SUN because it’s newer, easier to find, and MUCH better. But I thought I’d better at least inform you of the presence of that first one because you still need it and it’ll only get re-issued on CD if irate heads berate those involved. So, here goes on the description, and I’ll keep it as minimal as I can without frothing at the mouth too much…

Comets on Fire Volume 1

Though the 1st COMETS ON FIRE LP is a work of barbarian genius, it's nought but a thing that creeps compared to their new album FIELD RECORDINGS FROM THE SUN

First off, it’s clear to me that y’all need to know that this first slice of 500 copies-only vinyl1 was uniquely informed by same Noogie Monster which afflicted every great noise band after 1975: Electric Eels, Pere Ubu/Rocket from the Tomb, Chrome, all the usual suspects. Indeed, you can include all those who took from the 60s but wanted to hear it as they themselves had first heard it, that is: stoned and drunk and half-asleep through 2” speakers on late night radio. It’s that same vibration which informed the hiccuping mess of DMZ’s magnificent “Don’t Jump Me Mother”, the good-times-were-never-this-bad of SLADE ALIVE, the crazed innocence of The One Way Street’s “We All Love Peanut Butter”, The Alarm Clocks’ “No Reason to Complain”, The Bel-Aires “Ya Ha Be Be” (indeed, we’re possibly talking all of BACK FROM THE GRAVE VOLUME 3 here), the pre-teen Brummie brain abandonment of The Zodiac Motel’s pre-Birdland THE STORY OF ROLAND FLAGG, and every pre-Bob Ezrin Kiss LP.

“All I Need” opens the LP, coming on like Chrome’s ultimate career move. It’s their nightmare 1-minute 30 kid brother, and it distils side one of HALF MACHINE LIP MOVES into 90 seconds and fucks off the extraneous arty sonic dry wank, to reveal a pristeen and still-drying aural dayglow cartoon turd made by a 3D Bart Simpson.
“Graverobbers” follows, a great hulking riff like The Sonics’ “The Witch” with a 50 ton all-day-breakfast-eating no-neck truckdriver singer here reduced to Bernard Cribbins Hornby gauge but still with the same density (and heavier than the singer on The Novas’ ‘The Crusher’, you turkeynecks). “One Foot” is an eye-popping SLADE ALIVE, with Neville ‘Noddy’ Holder replaced by a cackling and cackily absurd carbon-copy robot. Gleeful like Zodiac Motel’s “Mr Watchtower”, it comes with the built-in bozo guitar solo as standard, madam. “Got a Feel In” is one of those “Babylon’s Burning” circular riffs that every rock genius (or people like me) just blatantly rip off and credit to themselves. “Rimbaud Blues” is the last track on side one, and opens with drums like Captain Beefheart’s brilliant slow anvil blues “Hard Work [Driving] Man” which Jack Nietzsche wrote for the movie BLUE COLLAR. But the 24-track Studers of Warner Bros. Studios are here replaced with one very high quality C90.
Side Two opens with ghoulish horror scream and lonely wa-guitar before spewing forth the pass-the-Bisto-mother ramalama of “Let’s Take it all the Way Down”, which is perfect TIME’S UP Buzzcockian bar-E fuck off combined with loads of Joe Meek short-wave. Then “The Way Down” takes the reins and batters ‘Surfin’ Bird’ drums into your brain and more complain complain hiccuping from Ethan Miller.
“Comets on Fire” is their fingers-on-the-mastertape slow-up slow-down theme tune, with Paul Stanley hysteria vocals and a classy classy ever-shifting chord sequence, further undermined by the rather evident echoplextures of Sir Noel. This racket continues until the outrageously confident and magnificent coda, which is no less than Rocket from the Tomb doing “Twist & Shout”. Nuff Said – cain’t say no more (just like the bit on High Rise’s “Mira” when they arrogantly pick up the tail-out from the Amboy Dukes “Journey to the Center of the Mind”, and a big old rock’n’roll grin splits your face wide open at the sheer fuck-off of it all).
Then these bastards tear into the Stooges “Deathtrip” and call it “Ghosts of the Cosmos”, before whipping out another brand new set of chords, underpinning it all the time with the “Deathtrip” signature at the end of each pass. Machine gun drumming swipes us up into “Days of Vapors” with its feedback fuzz bazouki theme, and this whole thing just sorta… peter’s out… (except for the totally un-nessa messabout encore which I shall not dignify with a proper mention, except to say it undermines the power and truth they so carefully built over the previous half-hour)

But, that said, the 10 songs of COMETS ON FIRE make it an essential buy and no record library is complete without it. Don’t think rock’s all been done because it ain’t – just get this record, you lovers of today. It’s a classic you gots to know!

Field Recordings from the Sun

Just one year on, the dawning of an entirely new and re-jigged Comets on Fire could be the saddest news of all. Except it ain’t anything less that a Total Upgrading. FIELD RECORDINGS FROM THE SUN is made by a higher form of humanity than its extremely excellent predecessor.2 In one year, they’ve lost a drummer but gained a saucy auxiliary from America’s deepest underground, and made a short-as-a-Van-Halen-album record of monumental authority. Ben Chasny from the excellent Six Organs of Admittance3 has been brought in to oomph the sound, and even writes one of the songs, whilst Comets’ new drummer Utrillo Belcher surely has the greatest name of any percussionist since Skynyrd replaced Bob Burns with Artemis Pyle.

Strangely, this second record opens like Hapshash & the Coloured Coat shagged the ladies of Amon Duul circa DISASTER, coming on with the Tibetan bells and all kinds of mantric peace-love-dovery. “Wha’happen’d?” you cry, as “Beneath the Ice Age” new ages you in the rectum… then, it’s ka-boom and you realise it was all just their “We Will Fall” smokescreen. The real Comets on Fire have landed, and demented and propellent bass-driven freakrock is alive and living again. This is RUBBER LEGS-period Stooges with Scott Thurston replaced by a Hollywood-sized vacuum cleaner. They even credit an alto-sax player called Tim Daly, but he’s in too deep to get in the way, coming on more like a subterranean Nik Turner. The whole track breaks down into chaos and finishes in primal punk chanting.

“Return to Heaven” lurks momentarily in lone feedback until a five metre bass riff enters the fray and brings us to Texan crazoid heaven – a place where everyone listens to BULL OF THE WOODS-period Elevators and everyone in the band does their best to undermine the beauty of Ethan Miller’s “Proud Mary” melody (which they cain’t as their pre-programmed Forward-Thinking Motherfucker buttons have been welded shut. Damn!) You think this is jamming, no way. These guys can write songs, AND have superb arrangements too. Every lickle bit of mess has its place and there ain’t an artwank cul de sac in their whole cityscape.

“The Unicorn” is Flower Travellin’ Band’s version of “House of the Rising Sun”; that is: a Zeppelin-styled acoustic picked obvious proto-Stairway. Beautifully improvised by Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance, it is suddenly overwhelmed by a Viking Attack of feedback and electronic interruption. If you know Doggen’s mayhem on TC Lethbridge’s “Ring of Brodgar”, well this is in the same pocket, but here some fucker left their half-chewed bubblegum in there and it’s got older, ickier and somehow even more runny. Oo yeah!

Then we’re back into familiar brine dommidge with the berserk descending riffs of “ESP”. Here, Ethan Miller sings like the guy out of Stereo Shoestrings doing “On the Road South”, or maybe Robert from The Zodiac Motel – so disturbingly gleeful. The song ends but won’t end… Bap bap bap… bap bap bap… bap bap bap… bap bap bap… bap bap bap… bap bap bap…

You think “The Black Poodle” is a weird name for the heavy freakout which finishes this great album? So did I till it bit my ass and sent me blarting my eyes out all the way to the health centre. It’s here that Comets on Fire employ all of their mercenaries and auxiliaries, and here that Sir Noel utilises his whole $17 worth of cranky electronics. Soon, Sir Noel is staring Utrillo Belcher out as the two of them have a drums and electronics war, but locked together like horned gods ain’t no way to stop the massed six-string cult hordes from flooding over the sonic battlements. And, Thermopylae as you like, Ethan Miller has found a back way into the song perfect for guitarists. Soon, producer Tim Green is wailing away on ‘extended fuzz wah sky solo’ and Angie Thurman is strapped into her ‘extended stoned white wah solo’, whilst Ben Chasny has commandeered a solid for his ‘extended attack distortion one solo’. Now, Ethan is standing on the broken battlements of the song, cackling and flicking the ‘V’s at Sir Noel, who (seemingly out of nowhere) shoots the singer through the heart with a single but deadly flourish of ‘intercom control panel’…

And Ethan falters...

“Why are we fighting?” screams producer Tim Green, in a sudden righteous memory of ancient rock cameraderie. Immediately, the mayhem subsides.

“Because…” gasps the dying but still eloquent Miller, “human beings are like dolphins… (cough) always looking beyond the family unit… always reaching for the ultimate combination… for the most superb… Gurdjeffian example of the dance…”

Then , faltering from internal wounds, Miller raises his still-feedbacking axe above his glowing rock’n’roll head, and – howling – tumbles 100 feet into the morass of dead musicians below.

This ain’t genocide – this is rock’n’roll!

  1. Get your harris to [email protected], where this long gone LP is still [November 2002CE] nestling in ever-dwindling numbers for $13 a copy.
  2. It they carry on in this upwards fashion, VOLUME 3 will have to be drummerless and released only on flourescent mini-disc.
  3. Great looking records, too.