Cass McCombs: Wit’s End
Everything is not okay with Cass MCombs, if the tone of his new album is anything to go by. In the past, there has been a restlessness to the music of this nomadic musician, but now that he has established his sound, there’s an aching loneliness at its core. McCombs seems to revel in his isolation, nestling into eight new songs that average at six minutes each, all at the same sluggish tempo.
A full set of ballads might suggest that Cass is softening his blow, but he has actually become even more uncompromising. The single is County Line, a downtrodden, completely gorgeous AM radio song. While it’s the closest thing to a love song, it’s hopelessly one-sided (“You never tried to love me”) and is sapped of the hope and desire of his previous album’s lead song, Dream-Come-True-Girl. The harrowing heroin-addiction promo clip adds an additional layer of despair.
Wit’s End is a heavy 50 minutes, despite its sparse instrumentation. Against the guitar/piano backdrop, a sole instrument will often rise out of the slow jam to light the way forward, such as the medieval trill of the clavinet in Buried Alive, the meandering clarinet dragging Memory’s Stain to its close, or the unnerving thwack of percussion in Hermit’s Cave. The repetitive all-verse/no-chorus structures add to the nursery rhyme and old-time waltz qualities of the songs.
The simplicity of the baroque instrumentation allows ample room for McCombs’ oblique, oddball lyrics. The Blake-meets-Bacon illustrations accompanying the wordy lyric sheet emphasizes that these cuts, with their minstrels and muses, have more in common with romantic poetry than other contemporary crooners.
Wit’s End may not sound like your idea of a good time, but it’s a rewarding trip to take with a fascinating musician.
Best Track: County Line
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In A Word: Bleak