Ah, the grand tradition of British bands writing paeans to their own youth culture. Such sociological undertakings are part of a long lineage, from The Who to The Jam, The Smiths to Blur. The best practitioners of this proud art that you’re likely to find working today are the men and women of the London band Comet Gain.
The recently released Réalistes, their second album for the Kill Rock Stars label, is a thirty-minute journey through broken hearts and council estates, cheap speed taken to dance all night to obscure soul records, having your life changed by music, etc. David Feck, the de facto leader of Comet Gain, is a permanent teenager in the best possible ways: earnest, headstrong, and romantic to a fault.
Réalistes is the follow-up to Tigertown Pictures, an equally brilliant record but an altogether different species. Where Tigertown was expansive and conceptual, Réalistes is terse, direct, and easy to digest. It starts with “The Kids at the Club,” a getting-ready song about the anticipation of a night out that ends up asserting the strength one can gain just from being part of a scene, the camaraderie of subculturing together.
“Réalistes is the opposite of Tigertown,” says David in his London flat. “Tigertown was musically very structured and complicated, but I wanted Réalistes to sound like it was a band’s first record — very energetic and raw.” The need to be straight to the point is apparent in the manic recording process Comet Gain used. “We laid down all the backing tracks in one day,” continues David, “with a drummer who’d never heard any of the songs before. We played it through twice, then we recorded it the third time.” This guerrilla method, so foreign in the era of Pro Tools, is what gives Réalistes its absolutely compelling sound. Punk love songs on the brink of collapse.
Even the guests on this album are dead-on. Chris Appelgren, singer of The Pattern and president of Lookout! Records, is the aforementioned drummer, and longtime Comet Gain champion Kathleen Hanna lends her vocals to “Ripped-Up Suit!” “We wanted somebody to sing something very angry over the song she’s in,” says David, “and Kathleen was perfect. She sent us this thing back. I had no idea what she was singing — I still don’t! But what she did is great. It’s so explosive.”
The urge behind Comet Gain is more inclusive than that of a lot of bands — Comet Gain wants you on board. This is reflected in their extensive liner notes, which are half manifesto, half love letter. Réalistes contains the essay “A New Cinema,” a motivational pep talk for jaded punks and tired artists alike. David explains, “We were thinking of the style of cinema verité, that idea of echoing the way things really are.” What this comes down to for the listener is unadulterated inspiration. Whether you get out there and start a band or something is up to you, but Réalistes might at least stop people from being boring and bored. As the essay itself tells it:
“Now is a good time to inject romantic realism and daydream visions, to dance more and oppose more … this is a new cinema. If you want it.”