The Comas’ lineup and sound is pretty similar to the New Pornographers’: both rock tube-amped power chords, showy organs, and keyboards, and both alternate male and female lead vocalists. Songwriting-wise, The Comas are not as memorably hooky as the New Pornos, though they may be a bit more reliable. But for those of you new to The Comas’ work (their last album, Conductor, got some modest accolades from critics), there’s not a whole lot more to say about Spells than the obvious: It’s an unremarkable but charming batch of twee anthems that are derivative but by no means stale. Sure, the band tries to quirk it up the best they can by bouncing back and forth between keys and time signatures and dropping D&D-esque lyrics about bringing holy chalices to maidens in towers, but all the over-arranging and elaborate language seems a bit like busy-work and, like any number of independent rock records, Spells may have worked better as an EP. There’s a lot of dead weight for a 35-minute album (the only way to tell the ballads “After The Afterglow” and “Thistledown” apart is that Andy Herod’s lead on “Thistledown” is distorted with a raspy vocal effect), but there are also a number of gems. “Stonedad” and “Come My Sunshine” sport comparatively dark melodies and pack some Cheap Trick-style punch. The new-wavey “Sarah T” is kind of pointless and dull, but its weird sister song “Hannah T” is dreamily catchy, as Herod shouts meekly over the swirling, wah-wahed keyboards. Opener “Red Microphones” is the record’s highlight: the guitars maintain a cool, palm-muted vibe while the synths buzz and twinkle. Singers Herod and Nicole Gehweiler’s vocals are almost unsettlingly sweet, and, paired together, they fare much better than they do on their respective solo numbers. Few bands have a more inappropriate nom de plume than The Comas; their songs are cute and brisk and, despite its foibles, Spells won’t put anybody to sleep.
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