A diaphanous aural watercolour rendering of a psychedelic country landscape.
Coma Girls are 7 years into their musical existence and, like a whole bunch of ‘bands’ of that ilk, have shifted a great deal of earth between then and now, with relatively little to show for it. Changes in geography, personnel, genre affiliations, relationships (personal, commercial and artistic) and mind-set have seen them produce one pretty limited cassette album, a couple of singles and now the EP that is our focus here ‘Skyboxer’.
As often seems to be the case, when a band labours away at the coalface over a number of years with little but shifted earth to show for it there is one individual who is the driving force, whose vision and commitment sustain the graft beyond the point where fainter hearts expired. In this case, say hi to Chris Spino, who pretty much is Coma Girls as constituted right now.
Spino’s vision for ‘Skyboxer’ was to create “a sonic circus… with pop songs” and this was, largely successfully, realised by a rotating cast of players with Spino himself on vocals, guitar & piano; Adam Laidlaw on guitar; Marvin Figueroa on bass; Travis Popichak on drums; Dan Gee on keys; Michika Skyy on backing vocals. Perhaps the MVP contribution came from the widely travelled (Tim Heidecker, The Black Lips & Weyes Blood) Connor “Catfish” Gallaher, whose swelling and keening pedal steel (do they do anything else?) can be heard slathered all over the record to fine effect.
So lots of pedal steel, it’s a country record, right? Well….. nowadays, acknowledging the requirement to qualify our pigeon-holing, to be more nuanced about our boxing-off of genres then we may dub Coma Girl’s sound “pop-Americana”, “electronic jangle rock” or perhaps even “bar rock for people who don’t like bar rock” – all of which have been applied elsewhere. At its heart though it’s fair to say that this is pretty much a country record. We may want to qualify that designation with the application of random adjectives such as widescreen, indie, pop or even psychedelic perhaps, but it remains country none the less. Just because Spino has listened to the odd record by Bright Eyes, War on Drugs or Rose City Band, does not change that.
Take ‘Pasadena’ for example, a simple ballad that is loaded up with gold plated country tropes to begin with, ‘baseball caps and blue jeans’, ‘the Mason Dixon line’ and ‘escaping the South’ along with the aforementioned steel; before finally dissolving into a blissful psychey outro that The Tyde or Beachwood Sparks would be proud of.
There may be particular if differing intensities of meaning in each of the four songs here, the lyrical temperament may shift a little between wistful, vaguely thwarted and resignedly introspective but what strikes is the overall mood of the piece – its consistent, ever so slightly downbeat disposition and ultimately Spino’s somewhat lovelorn lyrics that offer affecting comment on the human condition and the ongoing challenges to maintaining this in a positive and healthy condition.
We could be forgiven for concluding that Skyboxer is easy-going, melodic, almost lightweight in the way it engages us and this would be meant as a positive summation. But that would also be doing it down, ignoring a deeper more interesting game that is being played here. It’s a new playground for Spino and whoever he’s collaborating with right now but he’s more than happy crashing the sandpit and steeling the buckets of those big boys Conor, Adam and Ripley who are already in there building their own castles.