[Click play above to hear ‘Artificial Light’ from Comet Control’s Center of the Maze. Album is out this Friday on Tee Pee Records.]
Though it spends much of its time engaged in a garage-in-space push, the prevailing vibe on Comet Control‘s second album, Center of the Maze, is still one of serenity. The Toronto five-piece’s sophomore release follows their 2013 self-titled (review here), and like that debut it arrives via Tee Pee Records with a bright, vital blend of heavy psychedelic and space rock lent further shoegazy ethereality by the languid vocals of guitarist Chad Ross. Ross, joined in the band by guitarist Andrew Moszynski, bassist Nicole Howell, drummer Jay Anderson and keyboardist Christopher Sandes, is responsible in no small part for that serene impression, and after full impulse power of songs like opener “Dig out Your Head” and “Criminal Mystic” is disengaged and Comet Control set themselves to the relative drift of closing duo “Sick in Space” and “Artificial Light” — which between them comprise 18 of the record’s total 45-minute runtime — the vocals become another part of the lush and consuming arrangements that offer warmth as much as hypnotism.
Although Center of the Maze ultimately finds Ross and Moszynski pushing farther away from their work with prior outfit Quest for Fire (they were also in The Deadly Snakes), the songcraft and depth of mix in these eight tracks speaks to some measure of continuity between the two projects. Still, there’s little question that Comet Control have set themselves to the task of finding their own personality apart from what their members have done before, and that shows itself in dividends from one end of the LP to the other.
The sense of journey along the way isn’t to be understated. At their starting point in “Dig out Your Head,” Comet Control dive and weave and space-rock-stomp through what serves as an immediate hook on which they continue to build as they go forward into other early cuts like the more shuffling “Darkness Moves,” with some highlight snare work from Anderson, and the more folkish “Silver Spade,” which calls to mind Revolver-era The Beatles without aping them either in melody or structure. That in itself is an accomplishment worthy of note, acoustics leading as Mellotron-style keys add melodic flourish and brighten the atmosphere. They seem to be setting up a solo freakout like that which “Darkness Moves” undertakes in its solo section, but keep it smooth as “Silver Spade” heads into the tambourine-laden shoegaze of “The Hive.”
Acoustic strum is audible in kind with the spaced-out fuzz, and “The Hive” seems to deliver the swirlfest in its second half that “Silver Spade” hinted toward, the march that’s been underway the whole time subtle but already at some distance removed from when they set out on “Dig out Your Head,” the flow between songs remarkable and feeling very intentional but not in a way that sacrifices the natural sound of the material. Purposeful but not contrived. That continues as the motion of “The Hive” feeds into “Criminal Mystic,” on which Sandes comes forward in the chorus wind a similar course to the guitars but provide the hook beneath the heavier, lower-toned fuzz of the guitars and Howell‘s bass. “Criminal Mystic” is a particularly good example of the heavy psychedelia that Comet Control have made their own, a blend of instrumental push and vocal calm, swirling and spacious but still catchy as well. In its place at the end of side A (I think), it becomes a high point of Center of the Maze‘s first half.
There is, however, a decided sonic shift as Comet Control begin side B. It happens as the keys come to the fore on “Golden Rule” after space rock howling opens to elicit a late-’60s stomp, soon further emphasized through tambourine. In pace, it connects with a lot of side A — even “Silver Spade” moved — but it also sets up the transition into the more pastoral spaces that “Sick in Space” and “Artificial Light” will cover. The closing duo also comprise the two longest tracks on Center of the Maze at eight and 10 minutes, respectively, and between them also go further out into cosmic meandering, wonderfully melodic and full in sound and realization, “Sick in Space” soothing even as its wash grows more prevalent. That apex is powerful, but the song ends with Ross delivering the album’s title line and it feels like a setup for “Artificial Light,” which of course it is.
And it’s a finale worthy of setup. No doubt in my mind that when December list time comes around, “Artificial Light” will be one of the best songs of the year. Sonically, it recalls some of the best moments of Quest for Fire‘s laid-back mind expansion, but as they have all along, Comet Control put their own twist on it, this time via a flat-out beautiful meld of standout synth lines and background effects wash and overarching vocal harmonies for the ultra-memorable chorus, “I’ll be your eyes/I’ll be your heart and your breath/Spread your wings or fall to your death.” Once again, acoustic strum emerges alongside the electrified guitars, and Comet Control cap the triumph of their second record with a sense of patience that answers all the prior rush as if to wonder what was the hurry in the first place. As it gracefully waltzes into its second half solo, “Artificial Light” dives into classic heavy grandeur while sounding effortless and keeping its core rhythm, tempo and that current of acoustic guitar intact, never quite letting go until it casts out its final, long-fading wash of keys and noise to end the album.
Staggering in resonance and emotionally gripping as it is, Center of the Maze‘s finish is still just one part of what it has to offer, and after it’s over, it’s all the more worth looking back to “Dig out Your Head” and internalize the distance covered. It is vast. A follow-up from Comet Control had been one to anticipate, but I’m not sure even the most hopeful of scenarios could have accurately predicted what they achieve here.