Cass McCombs aims for ‘Prefection’ on CD

Mike Morrone

In a day and age where mediocrity is not only accepted, but praised as revelatory, (yeah, I said it, Chris Martin, so what are you going to about it?) there are a certain few who strive to consistently set the proverbial bar above and beyond what is expected. Cass McCombs is one such artist.

Cass hails from Baltimore and has recorded for the criminally under-appreciated Monitor Label. With his latest LP, “PREfection,” McCombs elucidates why he ought to be a major player in the singer/songwriter genre for some time to come.

“PREfection,” like his previous release, “A,” contains esoteric songs unfolding in their own time. McCombs’ voice is gripping, even when it quavers. It feels as if McCombs has important things to convey, and yet it sounds in his best moments as if he cannot or will not be able to even conclude the thought. He leaves his listeners hanging on his every word, and his words are achingly eloquent and observant.

“PREfection” begins with arguably the strongest track “Equinox.” Four quarter-beat bass drum counts give way to a moody mix of guitar, bass and drums. McCombs wispy voice flits just above the mix, murmuring vivid images such as, “Despotic owl conducts the wolves/and mulls attacking the fox.” “Subtraction” follows in an upbeat manner, which contributes a lively mix of organ and keyboards.

Keyboards populate many of the other tracks on “PREfection,” and this is to the credit of supporting musician Natalie Conn. The unobtrusive Conn augments the melancholy mood apparent in “Multiple Suns.” The fourth track, “Tourist Woman,” starts with a tight fuzzy guitar sound that resembles shades of Jack White. The extended outro of the song unexpectedly lifts the guitar line from “AIDS in Africa,” an absolute stunner from “A.”

“PREfection” draws on several different sources. It would be folly not to mention some of the guitar work sounds like a mid-80’s Cure or Echo and the Bunnymen, as well as slower Bloc Party. “Sacred Heart” is a clear example of these shimmering guitar strands, cohesively mingling them with McCombs’ tales of wanting and departure.

Another song worthy of mention (they really all are but let’s not quibble,) is “City of Brotherly Love.” Synthesizers add an atmosphere to Cass’s poignant warbling. The song is a protest one at heart, referencing God and Plato, as well as asking the rhetorical question “Who am I fooling?” This dreamy song floats away, but it only allows the listener to wander briefly, as McCombs ends the album with a pointed, “Why bother…”

Listeners should bother because the entire album delights. It is somehow moodier than its predecessor while inhabiting the same basic genres. This fortunately is a good thing. What appears to be gone is the sardonic take McCombs brought to portions of his previous album (“A Comedian is Someone Who Tells Jokes,”) as well as some legitimately funny lyrics (how can one not laugh at “fat man on a bike?”)

This album comes highly recommended, as well as the downright exceptional “A.” (For those who own turntables, 45 “I Cannot Lie/A.Y.D.” is also another suggested pickup.) Cass ought to receive some major attention at any time now, so support an immense talent, and even see him live if possible.