A lot has happened in the Comas' camp since they debuted last year with Wave to Make Friends: Nicole Gehweiler joined as keyboard player/vocalist and guitarist Adam Price left to play with the Mayflies full-time. With the help of engineer/production wiz Brian Paulson, the recording of A Def Needle started at Richmond's Sound of Music studios and continued at Paulson's Bynum home studio, which is full of effects and musical gadgets.
A labor of love for Paulson, these marathon sessions resulted in layers of cool electronic sounds, samples, strings and guitar lines. This is a transcendently beautiful album full of shimmering small moments: a keening violin melody by Margaret White, the delicacy of the three-part harmonies and the tasteful use of drum machine and sampled sounds. Songwriter Andy Herod's high, fragile vocals--blending perfectly with White and Gehweiler's ethereal harmony--are placed in the mix as if they're just another instrument, adding to the hypnotic effect of the band's heavenly distorted pop.
The album varies from the rock assault "Wicked Elm", complete with a fuzzy vocal by Herod and fat, overdriven guitars, to the languid drum machine/electric piano ditty "Sweet Sweet 69." With both White and Gehweiler on vocals, there are the inevitable comparisons to Yo La Tengo. But to me, much of the album--check out "Arena," the opening track--harks back to Creation records-style shoegazer Brit pop. Ultimately, though, it's Herod's idiosyncratic lyrics and knack for writing a catchy chorus that elevate A Def Needle to "must hear" status.