Release Date: Apr 26, 2011
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, International
The fifth album from singer-songwriter Cass McCombs is difficult to listen to without a side of Prozac, or at least a stiff drink. McCombs — an interview-shy soul who's toured with Modest Mouse — seems to slide into a deep, dark depression on Wit's End, lulling you into a minor-key state of mind without delivering emotional payoff. The best parts of his past efforts (a clear, ringing voice, skillful guitar playing, just the right amount of twang) are dulled down here; nuances become hard to distinguish under the cover of repetitive, mournful piano.
Singer-songwriter Cass McCombs named his fifth album WIT'S END, not WITS' END. The distinction is slight, but telling. Because "wits" usually refers to an overall sense of sanity while "wit" is more commonly associated with one's cleverness or humor. And this record does not mark the end of McCombs' good judgment.
“You never even tried to love me/What did I have to do to make you want me?” The resounding mystery and compassion of Cass McCombs is only compounded by one of the strongest and alluring catalogs of the last decade (A and Catacombs, principally). The preambular Wit’s End (hopefully he hasn’t reached his) primes McCombs for the ’10s with piano lamentations marking another well-paced (albeit drowsier) long-player. If Catacombs made your heart swell, Wit’s End might burst it.
Coming to review Wit’s End almost half a year on from its April release is a perversely appropriate task. Although it won’t take five months for Cass McCombs’ latest record to fully sink in, his “fifth-and-a-half” album is not one to thrust itself upon you with engaging immediacy. Accompanied by its sister LP Humor Risk on November 7, perhaps this bleak, almost percussion-free offering will reveal its secretive wares in one showy flourish but that would be an almighty shame.
This is no country for the singer-songwriter. Sure, he still pleads his case, battered guitar in hand, but he knows each show could be his last. In a business dominated by corporate cyborgs and indie collectives, he comes across less like a folk hero and more like a beggar, singing of his own decline for pennies. Admittedly, the entire romance — as it emerged from the cultural fantasies of the early 60s — seemed troubled from the start.
Enigmatic roamer Cass McCombs can hardly be pinned down – musically or otherwise. The typical singer-songwriter label isn’t applicable to his catalog, he’s spent his adult years traipsing about the country, and his standoffish, mysterious public persona only adds to the intrigue. On this fifth full-length outing, Wit’s End, though, we find McCombs staying in one place, settled into a soundscape consumed with thoughts of darkness and death – and effortlessly transporting the listener there as well, with undeniable finesse.
There was a moment there, in the ‘70s, when Van Morrison seemed to have completely unraveled. Take Veedon Fleece, or the bulk of St. Dominic’s Preview—those records were so unsettled, so wandering, so freshly wounded that they are both revelatory and sometimes terribly difficult to listen to. I mention that moment in Morrison’s career here because Cass McCombs seems to use that particular incantation of the Irish singer-songwriter as some kind of spirit animal on Wit’s End.
[b]‘The Lonely Doll’[/b] is the second track on [a]Cass McCombs[/a]’ sixth album of miserable American folk, and a song that acts as a key to both the album and his beatnik worldview. Beginning as a subtle tribute to an unhappy doll that he drunkenly spied on last summer, it builds, via the symbol of the poppet, into a portrait of modernity as obsessed with images of real life, rather than real life itself.No prizes for guessing who’s been reading Guy Debord then, but it’s these touches as well as his reverb-laden sound that makes him vaguely modern, unlike some folk artists who’d be happier pretending the 20th century never even happened.Jon GuignolOrder a copy of Cass McCombs’ ‘Wit’S End’ from Amazon .
Cass McCombs has created his own little world. The elusive, frequently nomadic singer-songwriter doesn’t conduct interviews in person or over the phone. He restricts his correspondence to mail -- that is, snail mail, via the good ol’ USPS. He’s aloof, but not in a holier-than-thou way. Rather ….
CASS McCOMBS plays the Rivoli Saturday (July 23). See listing Rating: NNN California songwriter Cass McCombs traverses darker terrain on his fifth album than on 2009's country-tinged Catacombs. The slow collection sometimes draws from medieval folk music and makes for a good listen late at night, alone on a dark road. On opener County Line, McCombs's soulful falsetto yearns for a place and perhaps a person over organ and quiet electric guitar.
In several sometimes perplexing ways, Cass McCombs' fifth full-length outing, Wit's End, veers moderately but decisively away from the appealingly direct, rootsy indie folk of its predecessor, Catacombs. In its place is a stark, occasionally stifling collection of dark, literary, chamber folk, melodramatic piano balladry, and one sterling piece of country-pop classicism. Album-opener "County Line" is a quiet stunner: a mellow-grooving country-soul burner so achingly smooth you'd swear it was a turn-of-the-'70s chestnut from the L.A.
If you’ve been following Cass McCombs for awhile, you know that his albums have slowly become less loud, less showy, more intimate, and more refined. Though PREfection and Dropping the Writ both were finely executed and enjoyable albums in their own right, his last album Catacombs felt like a triumph in artistry, the sound of a musician stripping his sound of the recognizable layers of influence to expose the songwriter’s core. It proved that the opaque McCombs was also good at working in a clearheaded vein.
BEASTIE BOYS “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two”(Capitol) Retro and proud of it, Beastie Boys give their hip-hop time machine another ride into the 1980s on “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two,” their eighth studio album. Analog synthesizers burble and snort, rock guitars fuzz out, and the cadence and slang of the three rappers — Adrock (Adam Horovitz) and Mike D (Mike Diamond), both high and nasal, and the hoarse, scratchy MCA (Adam Yauch) — are strictly old school. “I start to reminisce and I miss/the real hip-hop with which I persist,” Mike D raps in “Too Many Rappers (New Reactionaries Version),” shortly after Adrock calls himself a “grandpa” who’s “been rapping since ’83” in the same song.