Comets on Fire

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Comets on Fire
In 2004, the California quintet Comets on Fire released Blue Cathedral, its third and best album to date and the first featuring Six Organs of Admittance frontman Ben Chasny. It was a psychedelic swarm of ideas, a topography of high notions sketching a DayGlo time trip through sheets of spiraling guitar, washes of electronics and the pedal-plugged voice of Ethan Miller.

Avatar, its triumphant follow-up, is a case study of a band finding its focus. Here, Comets on Fire proves a great psychedelic band because it's a fantastic rock band, five congregants worshiping in the sanctum of sound and preserving the sacred with pressurized songs, streamlined but not stilted.

Though each anthem is distended -- six of the seven tracks stretching past the six-minute mark -- the band loses little time: Miller is singing 13 seconds into opener "Dogwood Roast," his gruff voice recalling Gregg Allman's weary growl, while the guitars recall the airy atmosphere of Hawkwind. Even the nine-minute "Sour Smoke" refuses stagnation, climbing through changes that spotlight Ben Flashman's keyboards and Chasny's beatific chants.

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