Cass McCombs—Wit’s End (Domino)
At his best, Cass McCombs is one of the best songwriters alive, and he is at his best on Wit’s End. Leonard Cohen is perhaps his nearest relative now, though without the religion and with a little more diversity in song structure. They have in common the darkness, the patient unravelling of the song, and the willingness to let sadness and longing stew in their own juices until there’s something akin to redemption.
County Line is the album’s first track and its standout. It stands out not so much in quality—all the songs are of very high quality—but in style and mood. There’s almost a slowed down BeeGees feel to it that generates at least a little something uplifting. Don’t get used to it, though. A scan of the coming titles tells a lot: The Lonely Doll; Buried Alive; Memory’s Stain; Hermit’s cave… One is reminded of Eliott Smith—both Smith and McCombs have a penchant for the sad waltz—but Smith’s reaching voice could always fool you into hope. No such tricks with McCombs.
In the singer/songwriter tradition, there seem to be guitarists and pianists. McCombs is proficient at both, but this is a piano album. It’s composed with the sort of musical awareness that one sees in (later) Elvis Costello or others who dabble in musicology, but it doesn’t come off pretentious. Instead, the forms very much serve the functions and the result is beautiful.
Don’t look for many better albums this year. Buy this and Low’s new album, and be happy with your misery.
You can stream the whole album at The Guardian.