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.