THIS record begins not in the virus, lockdown, careers suddenly and virally iced, like the back story of so many records of recent times. Which in itself, may be a relief of sorts.
No: this record begins with that other cultural tragedy of our isles and times. B. B. Can I even say it? Brexit. There.
It was the insular secession from the European project that proved the final straw for Comet Gain’s driving force and front man David Christian. We’re told that he “escaped to the French woods, by the ocean, when Boris and his rabid, disgusting crew weren’t looking.”
Not that that was the only driver: he’d been heading up the cult indie-garage-punk band Comet Gain for a year shy of three decades. “maintaining sweet failure at all costs”.
Out in those Gallic, maritime woods he had a eureka moment, now he had distance and clarity: why not … a solo album? Why not, indeed? An avid fan as well as a creator, he looked back through his collection and saw that many of his perennial touchstones were solo records. Julian Cope, after the Teardrops; Mike Nesmith, after The Monkees; Gene Clark, flying free of The Byrds. Hmmm. Why not?
Collecting pinecones, he decided that his backing band for such a venture would be The Pinecone Orchestra. He could call on friends to flesh out what would be a summing up, a personal soul-baring. After all, the moment was wholly, globally one of introversion. Thus he brought in names such as Herman Dune drummer Cosmic Neman; James Horsey and Alasdair MacLean, of The Clientele; former Teenage Fanclub genius Gerry Love; Ben and Anne-Laure from Comet Gain.
Everything was churned up, rising to the surface in the way it only can when you’re disinterring the everything of yourself in relocation; those boxes, books, photos, fliers you’ve not seen in decades appearing anew, triggering first names, but not last, faces without either who were once integral. Thus the title and much of the lyrical subject matter is in tribute to those only half-remembered, winnowed down in the memory bank to a few seconds in the internal cinema; “the ones,” he says, “that burst into your heart and are then lost forever.”
The album starts with a punchy flourish, as it ought: “In My Hermit Hours” is deffo Dylanesque, with that Al Kooper swirling, organ keyboard warmth, a certain atmosphere of looking back with fondness on a way of life past – one that permeates the record. Slide guitar colours a big chorus with more of an English indie sensibility of a Me & A Monkey On The Moon stripe (obvs a very good thing). Folk rock via The Lexington and Dan Treacy, and very nice it is too.
“Goodbye Teenage Blue” charts a more classically indie pop course, guitars glowin’ up and makes mention of owning “six copies of Crocodiles and ten Kilimanjaros” – looking back at teen years spent enthralled with the Bunnymen and the Teardrops (only got two of each, myself), and being “skinny as a match”, aaah how that’s missed. David sees it’s time to move on, stop carrying that weight, “singing goodbye, goodbye, goodbye … amputate your flashback ways.”
The sweetly homespun swing of “Holloway Sweethearts” casts back to the easiness of blossoming teen romance, “What’s your favourite movie? … You know my dear, in many years / We won’t remember these words or this place.” It certainly and bittersweetly brings to mind my first big lurve, hanging out on the abandoned railway line and getting a taxi home every Thursday evening. Awww.
And this is how the record continues: a hymn to a London lost, a London equally kind and cruel and so alive, but which David can no longer conscience as the capital of Brexitannia. “When I Called Their Names They’d Faded Away” speaks of “park benches in the Camden sun” and has more than a little of late Biff Bang Pow! about it’s one one man in a twilit room about it. It flowers in the beautifully endless direction of Poem Of The River, fair rips at your heart strings and no, that’s grit in my eye.
David rouses himself into the present and a tougher positivity for “Dream A Better Me”, proper boy-girl indiepop loose harmonies present and correct, confessing “I’ll do what I can with the time I’ve got left … I can’t run anymore.”
An aficionado of the great Gene Clark, David has named “On The Last Day (We Spend Together)” with nuance. There’s that critical take that the thing that really makes “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” is that qualifying ‘probably’; I’ll probably feel a whole better. Similarly here a chiming, ringing, Francophile tune is in the future perfect, looking forward, not back, to a last day. And oh, it takes off as the warmest, chiming janglepop so briefly before it ends.
Two soul-baring dives, the barrelling pub piano of “Lockets, Drop-outs And Dragnets”, in which David declaims with acuity “We all choose who we get haunted by / We all keep our phantoms fed”, and the more oceanic roll of “Pay Me. Later, Coco + Dee” lead to the pretty jangle of “See You In Almost Sunshine” which in indie days gone by, would’ve been a front runner for the 12″. Y’know, when singles was singles.
“I Used To Make Drawings” has this deftly spangly guitar quality, and sees David bemoan the level he stalled at with the visual arts despite being from a family of them: “I used to do some painting / I wish I still did them / To give to my children.”
“The Ballad For The Button-downs” makes you sit up and it offers welcome catharsis and some honest-to-goodness racket: a straight-ahead, gloriously scratchy word-rush speaking truth to power from the bottom up, flat Slaughter Joe-style harmonica and all. You’ll find the video for this short, sweet blast just a couple of paragraphs down.
The sad, reflective “Mum’s And Dad’s And Other Ghosts” resolves a dozen tracks with a further raking of the embers of a life passing rapidly into memory: he wishes for a better life in which “Tom Courtenay finally gets on the train“; and observes that we’re not to worry about the dust, it goes so soon. “Don’t make my mistakes / And let the monsters free,” he advises, passing on wisdom. It passes into slide guitar and piano lushness in the middle break, again recalling that last Felt album (and The Tyde besides, with obvious bloodlines).
For Those We Met On The Way is really very elegiac, philosophical, valedictory, sad, unresolved, alive. It’s emotionally straight up if far from uncomplicated, in a way maybe we’re getting unfamiliar with encountering, everything post-modern and detached and viewed at a smartphone’s distance. It’s honest: not a quality that sits at all well with the current state of the UK. The things he wishes to communicate are a whole lot more than 140 characters and an off-the-shelf meme can possibly convey. Thank god for the music, eh?
I’ve made prior reference to Felt’s final album, Me & A Monkey On The Moon, and the quality I think both these records share is on an emotional level beyond the sweet country rock; they both feel like a summation, a closure, with all the mental processes that entails. At the very least it’s a door shutting on the life David’s left in Britain, with all the stirrings of memory of departure; I hope it’s not more than that, because it feels very final. A massive tug of the heartstrings, poignant and charged and folky.
David Christian & The Pinecone Orchestra’s For Those We Met On The Way will be released by Tapete Records digitally, on CD and on vinyl this Friday, November 19th; you can order your copy from Rough Trade.