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Alternative & Indie - Released October 14, 2013 | Domino Recording Co

Distinctions 5/6 de Magic
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Following a remarkably prolific 2011, which saw the release of not one but two strong-in-their-own-right full-length records (Wit's End and Humor Risk) from indie troubadour Cass McCombs, things got relatively quiet for the ever-evolving songwriter. His complexly poetic lyricism and subtly textured musicianship were in prime form on both albums, reaching into different places of darkness and humor. Two years later, Big Wheel and Others arrived; a sprawling 22-track collection that clocks in at almost 90 minutes and shows McCombs trying on different hats in his own established way of slowly unraveling his patient, aching compositions. It's an odd one. Beginning with a home-recorded spoken interview with a four-year-old, the album launches with a trio of repetitive Americana-seeped road rockers. The dusty churn of "Big Wheel," pedal steel-glazed softness of "Angel Blood," and dark lumbering tones of "Morning Star" set the listener up for an understated album of cowboy songs and clean, country-tinged melodies delivered from a distance. Before sinking into any one mode, however, McCombs quickly shifts gears with the saxophone-aided amble of "The Burning of the Temple, 2012," breezy dad-rock with the Graceland-esque instrumentation of "There Can Be Only One," and eventually the disorientingly lengthy sermon/poem/song cycle of "Everything Has to Be Just-So." This song riffs on for almost nine minutes, with a Dylan-via-Lou Reed monotone delivery on race, society, and individual perception. The song's mismatched segments persist for so long that they go from potentially grating to strangely lulling, not unlike Gillian Welch's ghostly epic "I Dream a Highway" or Dylan's "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," songs that stick around so much longer than expected that they become meditations unto themselves. It's an unexpected highlight of the album, and is followed immediately by the head-scratching instrumental pseudo-smooth jazz of "It Means a Lot to Know You Care." That's not the only bizarre sidestep of the extensive set. The lyrics of the almost unlistenable sleaze rock romp of "Satan Is My Toy" experiment with the meeting of religious and sexual themes only a few notches above AC/DC's locker-room innuendo, and almost every time the arrangements veer away from sleepy acoustic instruments, the shifts can be jarring. The issue with Big Wheel is that the standout tracks are as brilliant as the filler is confusing, and both are represented more or less equally. A loving cover of Thin Lizzy's "Honesty Is No Excuse" is delivered with the same shambling feel as Dylan's Self Portrait material, and Karen Black contributes lead vocals to one of two versions here of the especially strong "Brighter!," but every fantastic song is cushioned by an anonymous-feeling mediocre one. While those already enamored with McCombs' lyrical approach and subdued songwriting might find more of immediate value here than the uninitiated, there's a lot to sift through, even for fans, and it might be difficult to keep focus through the entire sometimes befuddling set. ~ Fred Thomas
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Alternative & Indie - Released February 8, 2019 | Anti - Epitaph

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For more than fifteen years now, Cass McCombs has been slipping around like wet soap. The Californian songwriter goes at his own pace and each new album blurs his sound a little more. So much so that the forty-year-old is perceived as a kind of outlaw in the indie scene, a man without a family... With his unusual pop, Morrissey folk, Velvet Underground-style country music, improvisations à la Grateful Dead and psyche-folk, McCombs explores a whole array of territories to create his fascinating music. Like its predecessors, this ninth album, Tip of the Sphere, is an assortment of poetic rock that cannot be fully digested in just one listening. With a pedal steel here and a drunken piano there, it’s not easy to decipher the man's meandering mind. It's a charm you can never get tired of. © Max Dembo/Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released August 26, 2016 | Anti - Epitaph

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Mangy Love marks the eighth long-player for Cass McCombs, who, fans will be happy to hear, continues to hold form as a refreshing renegade on his game. The singer/songwriter takes on the messiness of life including timely sociopolitical topics, with grooving accompaniment that makes it go down breezily. Along the way, he dips into psychedelia, reggae, Baroque pop, funk, and more. Compared to the mercurial 22-track set that was 2013's Big Wheel and Others, Mangy Love sounds focused and determined, even given a certain amount of style sampling. The album kicks off with "Bum Bum Bum," a '70s soft rock stroller that comments on the military-industrial complex and its enablers, including the drumming pun "bum bum bum." Later, "Run Sister Run" addresses systematic misogyny with tropical rhythms and hand percussion ("Hiding behind a Supreme Court urinal"). The LP's lead single, "Opposite House," features fellow indie darling Angel Olsen on backing vocals. Slow-grooving bass and rhythm guitar, strings, and vibraphone set a chill tone for absurdist lyrics like "From the window I can see/You coming back to me/How can this be?/My window's a tree." Olsen is one of many guests on the album, including Blake Mills ("Low Flyin' Bird"), Stuart Bogie ("Laughter Is the Best Medicine"), and HOOPS, the latter of whom appears on the psychedelic "It" ("It is not wealth to have more than others/It is not peace when others are in pain"). The roster of contributors is employed tastefully, as the album stays consistently coherent and low-key. Though those who don't process the lyrics will be missing a lauded part of the McCombs experience, Mangy Love, arguably more than ever, works as a musical expression alone, mixing the sometimes caustic lyrics and roguish indie touches with an overriding smooth '70s veneer. For those who take it all in, the album engages both the intellectual and aural pleasure centers. Or, to quote Mangy Love, it's "Sugar and spice and everything weird." ~ Marcy Donelson
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Alternative & Indie - Released February 8, 2019 | Anti - Epitaph

For more than fifteen years now, Cass McCombs has been slipping around like wet soap. The Californian songwriter goes at his own pace and each new album blurs his sound a little more. So much so that the forty-year-old is perceived as a kind of outlaw in the indie scene, a man without a family... With his unusual pop, Morrissey folk, Velvet Underground-style country music, improvisations à la Grateful Dead and psyche-folk, McCombs explores a whole array of territories to create his fascinating music. Like its predecessors, this ninth album, Tip of the Sphere, is an assortment of poetic rock that cannot be fully digested in just one listening. With a pedal steel here and a drunken piano there, it’s not easy to decipher the man's meandering mind. It's a charm you can never get tired of. © Max Dembo/Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released December 11, 2015 | Domino Recording Co

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Arriving two years after 2013's sprawling 22-track behemoth Big Wheel and Others, Californian indie bard Cass McCombs issues his first anthology, a similarly lengthy set of rarities called A Folk Set Apart. Culled from over a decade's worth of home and studio recordings, this is certainly the cabinet of curiosities you'd expect from the prolific singer/songwriter. Many of these tracks initially saw release as small-batch split singles and B-sides and they're arranged here in a very loose chronological order. The wry observations and dusty lo-fi tones of his 2003 debut are mirrored here by shambling castoffs from the same era, like the early single "I Cannot Lie" and "Oatmeal," a previously unreleased cut whose painfully harsh, scuzzy production borders on unlistenable. But McCombs' range has always been part of his appeal and the two tracks that follow are among the album's brightest highlights. The lush psych ballad "Twins," taken from the backside of a 2004 4AD single, is a total enchantment and 2009's "Minimum Wage," with its eerily cascading guitar part, is as crafty a pop song as you'll hear. "Bradley Manning," a darkly slinky ballad about transgender military whistleblower Chelsea Manning, is one of the most affecting tracks McCombs has produced. Throughout the second half of the album's 19 tracks, a display of McCombs' various guises plays out on the jangly power pop of "Evangeline," the old-time folk of "Three Men Sitting on a Hollow Log," and the woolly psychedelia of "Texas," an oddball bit of Western-inspired flimflam that features Phish's Mike Gordon, some dramatic group lyric recitation, and a bit of hardcore slide whistle improv. By the nature of its content and assemblage, there's not a lot of flow on A Folk Set Apart and some of the tracks might have best been left behind, but there is enough strong material here to attract new fans and provide longtime listeners a deeper look into McCombs' curious world. ~ Timothy Monger
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Alternative & Indie - Released August 26, 2016 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released June 8, 2004 | Monitor

Pop/Rock - Released January 20, 2008 | Domino Recording Co

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