Mojo (Publisher) - Ranked #48 in Mojo's 'The 50 Best Albums of 2016' -- "Led by happening saxist Shabaka Hutchings, the London trio conjure up 12 tracks of driving jazz-tronica..."
Recording information: Total Refreshment Centre.
Photographer: Fabrice Bourgelle.
As Sun Ra and his Arkestra kindly informed us back in 1973, "Space Is the Place," and given the recent resurgence of cosmic, sci-fi-infused jazz -- think Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, Flying Lotus, Taylor McFerrin, et al. -- it's fair to say that all things extraterrestrial still provide rich inspiration for a lot of contemporary experimental music.
"Great fire will fall from the sky, the cause will appear both stupefying and marvelous. Very soon after, the earth will tremble." So prophesied Nostradamus in characteristically apocalyptic style, and the Comet Is Coming, in contrast to the dreamy astral explorations of Washington or Thundercat, is a band that wholeheartedly embraces, indeed celebrates, the beginning of the end. The trio, comprising saxophonist King Shabaka (Shabaka Hutchings), synth wizard Danalogue the Conqueror (Dan Leavers), and Betamax Killer (Maxwell Hallett) on drums, are perhaps not to be taken too seriously though -- tongue firmly in cheek, they invite you to "Prepare for almost certain annihilation by pre-ordering the album."
So what does Armageddon sound like? Unsurprisingly, the heavy use of reverb and tape delay (one presumes they used the famously spacy-sounding Roland RE-201) is abundantly splashed across the trio of sax, synths, and drums, resulting in a dubby other-worldliness that colors many of the tracks. At times, the crushing distortion warps the over-clocked saxophone into something closer to Hendrix or Page's electric guitar, such as the textural punctuations over "Cosmic Dust" or the dirge of the overdriven drone underpinning the raucous "Lightyears." The synthesizers play an equally integral role to the atmosphere, as evidenced by the searing sawtooth basslines of "Journey Through the Asteroid Belt" emanating from the underrated Roland SH-09, or the fleeting LFO bubbles and bleeps on "Space Carnival," sound effects heavily associated with the Juno-60 that instantly bring the intergalactic to mind.
The tracks themselves are an interesting and exciting mix, all tied together by the trio's uncompromising sound. The groove usually takes center stage, and there are obvious nods to Afrobeat on several tracks, in particular "Cosmic Dust" and "Space Carnival," both of which groove like an interstellar Tony Allen. The side-chained kick drum punching a hole through the synthesizers on "Nano" brings the sound in line with something you might hear on Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder imprint, as do the disjointed, wonky, Dilla-esque hip-hop drums and bassline of "Slam Dunk in a Black Hole." Together with the ominous textural exploration of "End of Earth," a track which would sound good alongside labelmate Matthew Bourne's Moogmemory compositions, there is a tremendous breadth to this album without its ever feeling unfocused or disjointed. The cohesion is highly commendable, considering this is the band's debut full-length, and -- barring the apocalypse, of course -- hopefully there will further voyages into the unknown from London's finest jazz oracles. ~ Simon Spreyer