he Comas sprang from the heartbreak of one man. Rather than put his angst into whiny melodrama, Andy Herod began recording somewhat sunny pop songs, filled with loss, but also with expectancy and imagination. The resulting album, Conductor, represents the first chisel of a band looking to carve out its identity.
In case there aren’t enough c’s around, the Comas’ Conductor sounds like California, with an especial nod to Grandaddy (particularly Sumday). Guitarists Nicole Gehweiler and Herod provide the six-string drone, but synthesizers help to open up the sound. For all the melancholy at the album’s genesis, it’s an awfully expansive finished product. The Comas walk that line between indie and mainstream, carrying a cult attitude while creating a potentially commercial sound.
The group’s just on the WB side of true indie, but they’re also on the mature side of true emo. Herod’s lyrics are occasionally bitter, but almost never vicious, and they tend toward the emotional without reaching the maudlin. To pick a type, the Comas are more about “dealing with feelings” than “pouring your heart out”. Herod occasionally crosses the line, as on “Oh God” (with its pitiable lyrics “Oh, God, I wanna die / Oh, God, where is the feeling“), but his band’s musical restraint keeps him reined in.
The track “Hologram” shows the band at its most emblematic. Herod starts off with an almost clever lyric: “Every time I think about a zero / It’s me with my eyes Xed out with a Sharpie”. Ignoring the question of why he’s thinking about a zero, we get a picture of a slightly comical and certainly hurting lost lover. The acoustic strum that could have landed on a Dashboard Confessional track gives way to slightly more complex pop orchestration. As the synth fills out the sound, Herod imagines an escapist possibility: “It’s not me, it’s a hologram”. Rather than settling for his fancy, though, he confronts himself, acknowledging that “it’s only gonna be [himself] to blame”. The Comas risk a boring lost-adolescent-love track, but they turn it into a piece of self-examination based on the two-dimensional imagery of a hologram.
While the Comas prove themselves worthy of repeated spins, they have yet to establish their own sound—the turn to technological lyrics at the end of “Hologram” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Grandaddy or Flaming Lips album. Right now the Comas write good songs, but it’s still too easy to describe them by name-checking plenty of other bands. Not quite a break-out debut, the Comas can rest easy in the knowledge that a poetic band can take its waking slow.