Review: The Vanities – “Coma Kiss”

It’s a strange science, calculating when a respected local act will begin to attract regional or national attention, like some magnet that’s mysteriously ripened with the passage of precisely the right amount of time. And so it goes with The Vanities, a Jersey Shore quartet that has been refining its bizarrely addictive brand of angular indie rock for the better part of five years now. The group’s amassed all the requisite underground credentials: a steady diet of energetic live shows, a growing following of local — some might say borderline-obsessed — devotees and three self-released studio offerings, each more focused and complete than the last. So, what keeps the band from saturating radio-waves, taking turntables hostage in your hometown or hitting the road with rehearsed encores of “The Money Will Roll Right In” just waiting to be unleashed?

Enter Coma Kiss. Simply put, the much-anticipated full-length is an underground sleeper hit in the making and more of a studio-polished declaration of intent than anything you may hear this year from a young band. The strangely commercially accessible disc bears all the hallmarks of The Vanities’ recent work, from the furious, post-grunge roar of “Uncle Meat” to the catchy, big-chorus refrains of the radio-ready anthem “No Vacancy.”  But what makes Coma Kiss an incredible record (and not just an incredible record for a band working to cut its milk-teeth) is the way it balances commercial, studio-polished sensibilities with more ambitious and prog-leaning sonic departures. “Sore” and the quiet/loud push-and-pull of “Keeps Me Coming Back” may owe as much to Nirvana’s Nevermind as it does more experimental outings. But the songs are only minutes removed from the album’s meandering title track, where Joe Reilly’s guitar solos offer nods to At The Drive In and The Mars Volta, or “Tilt,” whose jagged stop-and-start bridges and pipeline-grazing segues could pay homage to the dexterity of surf-guitar.

Rob Blake, the group’s vocalist/guitarist and resident recording engineer, may be all too aware of Coma Kiss’ potential to push The Vanities toward brighter horizons. The disc’s image-heavy lyrics wrap their arms around all the usual themes — self-doubt and the trials of youth, desire and emotional rites of passage — but Blake has a penchant for painting himself right into the public eye. In the album-opening “Keeps Me Coming Back,” he seems to invite the listener to use Coma Kiss as a form of escape where “Tilt” contains digs about catering to ignorant ears. “No Vacancy,” with Almando Cordero’s slinking bass lines and Cory King’s pounding drums, may or may not be a commentary on stardom. “The tales outlive eternity/ where you’ll sell the rights,” Blake wails at one point. “In my entirety, I feel the same/ And I think I worship you/ What was your name?”

It may not be long before listeners don’t have to ask twice before knowing The Vanities’ name. Coma Kiss is exactly the offering the band should be pushing out there to introduce themselves to the world beyond the Garden State. It’s an invitation. This all may be strange but it’s not rocket science, right? Great band, great songs, great record. It’s only a matter of time before they come to your town. – Punk Planet, July/August 2006

About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.

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