I should probably own up to a certain potential for bias here, having known the drummer of this lot for the best part of the last three decades; so I'm favourably disposed towards their music before I've heard it. At the same time it may be worth pointing out that if it had turned out to be crap, I would probably have found the situation embarrassing and left it at yes, Charlie, it was just the sort of thing I like without bothering to either write or post a review here.
The Charlie in question carries the surname Adlard and will be known to at least some as the artist on, amongst other things, Image's Walking Dead comic. He's joined here by fellow comic artist Phil Winslade, known for various things amongst which was Vertigo's Goddess, as written by Garth Ennis. Wikipedia claims he landed the Goddess gig when he showed the aforementioned Ennis his portfolio at a comic convention in Coventry. Weirdly, I'm pretty sure both Charlie and myself were at that same convention. We too spoke to Garth Ennis - which was quite exciting - and I told him that the tone of Troubled Souls reminded me a little of Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, which he seemed to appreciate. What a weird, small world it has turned out to be.
Anyway, Cosmic Rays are two comic artists and two of their friends. I think the name may have been intended as some sort of vague pun - comic and cosmic - but anyway...
For the record, Charlie was a phenomenal drummer even back when his drawing ability was more village fête than Eisner Award, so it wouldn't really be fair to call this a vanity project, should one be tempted to do so; and it certainly doesn't sound like one. What it does sound like is heavy rock - as quite distinct from metal - which acknowledges no strong musical influence of anything since about March 1982. I picked that particular date because that was when Iron Maiden released The Number of the Beast, and my initial impression of the Cosmic Rays album leant in that general direction mainly thanks to the histrionics of the two opening tracks. Closer and repeat listening reveals this comparison to be pretty flimsy, not least because whilst there's neither rapping, drum and bass remixes, nor anything which would startle Tommy Saxondale to any great extent, Cosmic Rays manages to avoid sounding like an exercise in nostalgia, working perfectly well as its own entity. There are moments I'm reminded of the Who or maybe the Kinks, and there's Shoes which could have been recorded by one of the bluesier incarnations of Jim Thirlwell's Foetus, but there are too many individual subtle touches which dispel such comparisons, too much which varies from the standard rock template - the buzzing fuzz of the bass, the ornate keyboard noodling, and sharp as a knife production which keeps even the noisier flourishes sounding clear as a bell and definitively stamps the collection as belonging right here in the twenty-first century. The closest I've been able to get to any sort of general comparison is that I can imagine a lot of these songs being performed by the Black and White era Stranglers, which is odd as Cosmic Rays sound nothing like the Stranglers, so I suppose it's some subtlety of chord changes or composition or the general vibe - a sort of pulsing black leather Englishness for want of a less comical simile.
Having known Charlie for a while, and enjoyed at least one of the previous bands for which he bashed the skins, so to speak, I knew this was never going to be terrible; but it's a pleasant surprise how genuinely good it is, and how fresh it sounds for something which could be considered a fairly traditional rock album in many senses. May this be but the first of many.
Available here and now in a lovely double vinyl edition too.