Ever since it became clear that the MC5’s attempt to levitate Sun Ra’s starship was basically a complete failure, like-minded subsequent units have attempted more or less successfully to improve on the blueprint. Comets on Fire are the latest in a long line of groups using what is pretty much hard rock as grounds for atmospheric liftoff. The Santa Cruz collective owes a good deal to Japanese psych-punk bands like High Rise and Mainliner who broke sound/speed barriers back in the early ’90s, but Comets occupy their own slightly looser headspace—largely due to the presence of guitarist Ben Chasny, who, when not sculpting top-notch freak-out, plays acid-folk stuff of quiet intensity in 6 Organs of Admittance.
Much of Field Recordings From the Sun, Comets on Fire’s second release, suggests more than anything what the MC5’s ghosts would sound like: shout-along choruses acid-washed into unintelligibility, and set loose to wander around forever in a blizzard of tinny amp reverb. The guitars in their most excitable moments switch back and forth seamlessly between extremely fractured psych-rock and complete atonality, accumulating a fearsome massed sound over the duration of each track and eventually dispersing. The only exception is the allegedly improvised acoustic guitar piece “The Unicorn,” but that gets overtaken by feedback swells soon enough anyway.
Field Recordings could also be considered a mix between the cartoon MC5 of the Mooney Suzuki and the cartoon psychedelia of Acid Mothers Temple. But it’s better and more effective than either, because (a) you can’t understand the vocals, hence avoiding possible lyrical embarrassment, and (b) Comets don’t feel the need to dilute their pure forward fuzz drive with goofy space noises and bleeps and bloops. There are softer moments, presumably using the “camel bells” and “hippie drums” spoken of in the liner notes (for example, the record’s final track, “The Black Poodle,” where it sounds as if the Comets’ party has stumbled into some kinda Buddhist temple ceremony), but these act mostly as the proverbial calm before, or in the middle of, the storm. Then these West Coast record-collector types get back up and wreck the place, collapse in a massively fried feedback haze, and play with their amp knobs for a few more minutes before exiting the stage.