Cass McCombs: Wit’s End

Cass McCombs: Wit’s End

A soft-rock singer-songwriter with a subversive streak, Cass McCombs plays it relatively straight on Wit’s End, singing minimalist, funeral-paced songs in a pained, delicate croon evoking a creepy-crawly isolation. On the self-explanatory “Buried Alive,” McCombs can’t tell if he’s stuck six feet under with a rotting corpse, or merely waking up to another dreary day. On “The Lonely Doll,” a drunken night ends inside a hobo’s cardboard box, where he spots a beautiful woman in a nearby window who’s even sadder than he is. “Boozing is the highest aim,” McCombs sings on “Memory Stain,” though it can’t blot out the pain that’s omnipresent on Wit’s End. At least McCombs has a sense of humor, as well as a superhuman ability to wring every last bit of breathtaking melody out of the faintest pulse of electric piano, whistling organ, and somber bass. The ravishing soul ballad “County Line” comes on like a sensual call for reconciliation, but the lyrics only bring recriminations: “Hoping nothing’s changed, that your pain is never-ending,” he sings, before sinking the knife in with a heart-melting Eddie Kendricks falsetto. Wit’s End leans a little too heavily on dark-hearted dirges—most songs extend beyond the five-minute mark, and feel much longer—but McCombs allows occasional flickers of light to peek into the blackness, and they seem to shine all the brighter.

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