By: Jamie Jones
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Released on April 1, 2016 via The Leaf Label
I suppose, on balance, humanity had a decent enough run. Sure, we may have had a few unfortunate atrocity-sized blips along the way, but all in all we did alright in the circumstances. In any case, assuming there’s an afterlife, we’ll get our final report card soon enough – in case you haven’t heard The Comet is Coming and the curtain is about to fall on our little show. Its coming has been heralded by the prophets Danalogue The Conqueror, Betamax Killer and King Shabaka, collectively known as…well, The Comet is Coming. They can’t be accused of not putting their message front and centre for all to see.
They first alerted us to the immanency of our celestial reckoning with last year’s self-titled ep, which boasted one of the wildest, most fantastic singles of recent memory in Neon Baby, in which the trio took on the role of a three-headed intergalactic version of Dr Strangelove’s Major Kong, gleaming white hot as they surfed the comet down towards the surface of the earth. Now they return with their first full-length Channel the Spirits to play us out once and for all.
They don’t try to keep up with the pace they set on Neon Baby – anyone hoping for a repeat may well end up disappointed. For whilst there is a party vibe on display here from time to time – first track proper Space Carnival sounds exactly like you’d hope a song called Space Carnival would, all earthy electro-afrobeat rhythms and infectious sax riffs – it’s a surprisingly downbeat work for large chunks of its run time. By all accounts the tracks were recorded in a live studio party setting, following the sadly seldom copied Parliament/Funkadelic blueprint. Yet straight after Space Carnival comes the premature comedown of Journey through the Asteroid Belt, a song probably better heard alone through headphones than at an end-of-the-world shindig. It’s as if we go from dancing around a bonfire as the sky lights up to lying on the ground accepting our fate before the party even got started. Whilst both tracks have their merits the latter acts as something of a momentum stopper.
The pace and vibe to-and-fro like this throughout, from the introspective retrofuturist Kosmische of New Age to the brilliant churning bass-driven jazz of Star Furnace, via the instrumental hip hop vibes of Slam Dunk in a Black Hole. The difference in tone often comes in amount energy provided by King Shabaka (aka Shabaka Hutchings of Sons of Kemet and Melt Yourself Down). Legend has it The Comet is Coming first met when Hutchings stormed onstage while the other two members were performing as Soccer 96, and tracks like Cosmic Dust could do with him storming into them rather than tinkering around the edges – they’re begging for him to grab them by the haunches. The moments he does like on the title track are the ones where Channel the Spirits goes from ‘nice enough’ to ‘essential.’
Interestingly the most driven moment on the record comes when the band are at their least focused on Lightyears. And it takes an outsider to deliver it. Joshua Idehan, of Benin City and poetry collective A Poem Between People, recites frantic, desperate poetry across wild, atonal jamming. For a moment the slightly goofy BBC sound effects raiding sci-fi pretext is dropped for something much more earthbound, a shift which only adds to the visceral nature of Idehan’s words. It’s a stunning moment, but it brings the drift of some of the previous tracks into sharp focus.
Though the highlights of Channel the Spirits demand attention it’s hard to escape the feeling that as a whole The Comet is Coming haven’t quite lived up to the promise of their ep. If the comet really were coming it’s unlikely to be the first record anyone reaches for to soundtrack the apocalypse. But, whilst switching on the news might convince you otherwise, the world isn’t ending any time soon. There might be a little fat to trim away here but there are moments of inspiration that are worth taking some of the time we have left to get to know.