After spending a year as the Band Most Likely To — lauded by critics who couldn't quite work out why the public wasn't in a tizzy over this act — the Comas certainly seem dedicated to making the break tastemakers think they deserve. Spells is their first album for Vagrant (a label on decent terms with the Billboard charts), and it kicks straight off with "Red Microphones," the kind of fuzzy, hard-to-hate pop song that's been an indie staple ever since folks first heard the Pixies. The tracks that follow sound like the Comas have cleaned up for an onslaught of expected guests: the production is crisper, the band's disposition seems notably sunnier, and even their psychedelic tendencies have bent into a friendly, Beatlesque shape. (The magical mystery tour of "Thistledown" seems to go out of its way to imitate each of the Fab Four in turn.)
What's surprising is that none of this has cost them much in the way of fire. Like the Austin band Spoon, they have a knack for pouring decent amounts of tension into songs that should probably feel fairly ordinary: the big glam chorus on "Stonedad" sounds as gusty as it does stylish, and even "Sarah T.," a drawling mid-album breather, manages some good seething. When it comes time for the chorus on that one, though, they head straight back to the big major-key hooks this record's awfully keen on delivering. The career speculation hardly matters: no matter how many people actually wind up buying Spells, it certainly sounds like it'd be a large number.