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A Still-Restless Heart with a Touch Less Clamor – “For Those We Met On The Way” from Comet Gain’s David Christian

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As ingrained in our lingua franca, the phrase we all know, of course, is ‘you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.’ There are, in our view, however, two things about that saying that, if not ‘wrong’ exactly, are at least cause for some re-evaluation. One is that, despite its charitable and quaintly egalitarian intentions and the fact in rings in our ears with some frequency, the reality is that as a species we do it all the time anyway. Presumably tied to some primordial fight-or-flight kind of reflex (and isn’t it nice and handy that so many of our baser instincts can be pinned on evolution), the tendency to draw an impression from how someone or something looks is as baked into our collective character as our fear of the howls of nearby predators or seeing someone with a Nickelback shirt heading for the jukebox. Our other quibble is that by a contextual logic the word ‘book’ could easily be swapped out for ‘album’ and the meaning would be altered not one jot. Which is absurd. If anything, anyone that’s been buying records for any length of time knows well how the lure of a bold, intriguing cover by a theretofore unknown (or unrecognized) band or artist can influence the psyche and its impulsive ways. The moment that happens the thrill of the crapshoot is damn near irresistible and said record gets added to the pile.

But here’s the thing: that impulse also travels in the other direction and that’s to some extent the case here with the debut solo album from singer and songwriter and indominable mainstay from the band many – if not enough, really – have considered the true ‘only band that matters’ for near on thirty years now, the amalgamated wonder package of punk soul jangle indie psych post-punk folk rock pop called Comet Gain. Even for those that would recognize the name ‘David Christian’ as precisely that person of whom we speak, if they aren’t up on the man’s recent goings-on, might well react with a double take made of cognitive dissonance and chuckling incredulity, possibly even thinking for a moment ‘that must be some other David Christian.’ But nope. That man sat outside in wicker with the sun behind him, his legs gently crossed, propping up a trusty old electric (our only hint!), some languid expanse of water behind him lapping against the land of his new home in the South of France – all captured, no less, in sepia tones – is indeed the one the only, the legendary Feck. Having escaped the madness of Brexiteered Britain, all indications, from visual to musical, would indicate the man is very much at peace with his decision. Make no mistake, though, it remains, as it only inescapably could, a lively peace. It’s also, no surprise, a sprawling, raggedly fierce and honest one, replete with the staggering poetry of the heart and bristling with the uncontainable even as its edges seem burnished and softened by the landscape  (an effect, to the extent it exists, that in any case owes more to the innately more revealing rigors of a solo album than the seeping influences of living inside some modern version of a Millet painting.)

Having thus decamped and made the fateful ‘think I’ll do a solo album’ decision – why not, he thought, casting back over names in his records collection such as Cale Cope Nesmith Mayfield and more (many more) – Mr Christian called ’round the homestead of fellow expatriates Mike and Allison Targett of simpatico, Comet Gain-adjacent combo Heist, roped in old pal and drummer extraordinaire Cosmic Neman and the four of them, with Mike producing, made themselves the basics of a record inside a barn as the cows outside paid little mind and went on grazing. From there, the Pinecone Orchestra was drafted in – an ad hoc sextet featuring members of the Gain, Teenage Fanclub, the Clientele, Hanging Stars and others – and voila! (we are in France, after all), For Those We Met on the Way was born and is ready to land in the world’s lap via Tapete on November 19th, 2021. It is, in ways that both do and do not hew to the sound memories built inside us by his band back in Blighty, a beauty.

Marked by a baleful pedal steel and stately sweeps of Band-like organ, “In My Hermit House,” opening, sets out this album’s stall with a sign swaying overhead that reads ‘content and no regrets.’ Teeming with, of course, nimble couplets (“the haunted notebooks I threw them away / swapped for a beautiful day“) and bare-knuckled self-assessments (“and in the rotten cave that is your heart / was an empty bottle of Maker’s Mark // you say it helped you see in the dark / why do the smallest things always leave the deepest mark?“), jaunty and joyous, tinged with a proper soupçon of wistfulness, a more fitting introduction to the reinvigorated creative vibe humming from inside the new chez Christian could scarcely be imagined.

From there, through the poignant chime and fearless reflection of ‘sad sack serenade’ “Goodbye Teenage Blue,” “When I Called Their Names They’d Faded Away,” revelatory, confessional, the glorious ache of its honesty arcing across the bridge, the bang-a-lang and winkingly disingenuous “Dream A Better Me” (Christian spitting out its first line “I can’t write songs anymore” as the noise behind him proves him wrong), the lengthy, sharply languid “Pay Me Later Coco + Dee” that spends its last couple minutes leaning toward the gently epic and reaching it just as we know it will, to the pair of tracks that close this minor-key opus with an almost unnerving if delicious valedictory tension – the comeuppance put-down that is “The Ballad for the Button-Downs,” a fucking classic and no less, and “Moms and Dads and Other Ghosts” that, beyond name-checking Tom Courtenay and containing lines like “don’t scare the birds with tears for me,” proceeds to ride its crying pedal steel and its poet’s unflinching sensibilities into a complicated sunset that is nonetheless worthy of the stumbling loving ever-striving dream that preceded it, we get an album that speaks from the restless heart just as we’d expect but one that does so with a touch less clamor, as if the rattled charisma of its author, while no less engaging – far bloody from it – has finally found a place to sit down and more fully understand itself.

In the end, then, this being who it is, the resilience factor fully in play with whatever level of natural tetchiness dialed down a notch or two but the spark of inimitable songcraft as intact as ever, fans of David Christian’s main gig will feel right at home with For Those We Met on the Way, albeit a home that, while hung with familiar curtains, is free of the near-constant urban scurry right outside the door. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, no? Oui.