Cass McCombs - Wit’s End (Domino)

Wit's End bares McComb's darkly lit soul.

Released May 6th, 2011 via Domino / By Mark Beckett
Cass McCombs - Wit’s End (Domino) Be it ingenious word play or fortuitous coincidence, the title has a duality of meaning that suggests McCombs is not only at an emotional void but he is putting a stop to any lyrical gimmicks. Where before Cass could be criticised for firstly being too exact with his storytelling and more recently for being too ambiguous in his second-person vignettes, Wit's End is a naked depiction of a man who over the years has been steeped in mystery.

One thing we do know about him is that he has never been settled, living in various homes, cars and campsites in various cities and states. The album was recorded in New York, New Jersey, Chicago and California where he was born and it's these globe-trotting tendencies that pour into the lead single 'County Line', a track full of languid melodies, dreams of hometown fellowship and a manifestation of McCombs' tranquil vocals.

The album strolls along at a drowsy pace that physically forces you to recline. Repetitive melodies and recurrent lyrics act as a handrail for the crippled narrator, limping through forlorn memories. The juvenile 'Lonely Doll' is an almost brainwashing search for sympathy from McCombs. It is unashamedly innocent with its ballerina music box chimes and nostalgic lyrics.

His melodies that once hinted at - dare I say - jauntiness, have at this point been purged of all their smirking hedonism in a world where saturdays are robbed of their simple pleasures, kids toys are uncherished and delight is only found the shadows of others.

Drums are sparse and where present, reverberate with anguish, whilst the unnerving gun shot-esque clatters of 'Hermit's Cave' echo the sentiments of McCombs' indefinite lifestyle.

The relation between each song's recording destination may be distant, but once heaped together all could be escaping through the same back door of the same dimly lit jazz bar. The spacious double bass and pokey piano melodies of 'Memory's Stain' contain all the cool demeanor of an American gangster film, whilst cries of 'you're not bored/just sleep deprived/drunk on jealously/and pride' float from the main character's mouth.

McCombs' effortlessly soulful voice is the one constant that holds the songs together, with delicate piano and guitar noodling meandering around it. 'Buried Alive' is the highlight of his often understated vocals that only lend as much as is needed to each song, and nine-and-a-half minute closer 'Knock Upon the Door' in its calculated subtlety allows the album to subside slowly into the midnight sky. It's a frugal end to a beautiful wit-free exhibition of raw emotion and discontent with every passing day. No climax, no finale, just a slow decent into total darkness.