Kaspar Hauser was formed in Iowa City in 1999, led by singer/songwriter Thomas Comerford. Since the last Kaspar Hauser album, The Sons (2009), Comerford has put out two solo records and juggled performing live with his day job teaching film-making. Last Ghosts, recorded mostly live in a Chicago basement studio, reunites Comerford with longtime bandmates Steve Kiraly (drums) and Matthew Seifert (guitar), adding John Roeser (of Chicago bands Big Buildings and Innkeepers) on bass.
While Comerford’s solo work has a rootsy, almost country, feel, Kaspar Hauser’s sound is unapologetically rock and roll. The no-frills recording and loud, overdriven guitars recall the 1990s indie-rock sound of Dinosaur Jr. & Buffalo Tom, but Comerford’s lyrics are literate and pensive. If music can be loud without being huge, that’s Kaspar Hauser.
On “Bad Ax,” a bleak retelling of incidents from the life of Chief Black Hawk, Comerford sings, “Returning to my hunting ground to report what I have done/Will not state my name for the record, but a bad ax runs in my blood.” The darkness of the lyrics is offset by the overdriven guitars and hectic drumming on the tune.
A less serious song, “Shittalker,” has the sort of distorted, chugging velocity that Cheap Trick and REO Speedwagon made their calling card. “Will never hold your hand or kiss your mouth to shut you up on a train,” he sings, subverting a romantic trope from the movies (maybe Risky Business?) — but even in a kiss-off song to a “shittalker,” he maintains a melancholy edge: “Veiled in your room just like a pharaoh, you took everybody with you.”
“Words make us, but they break us,” opens “Words (in the Sky),” a quieter acoustic song, which touches on religious images — “word made flesh, turn the stones to bread” — but follows with the cynical line “there’ll be pie in the sky when we die.”
It seems like “Last Ghosts” takes as its theme the way language and people can betray us. At the same time, the relaxed, let-’er-rip rock and roll behind Comerford’s deep voice is a celebration of what words can’t betray.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 207.