erasing clouds

Cass McCombs, Prefection

reviewed by dave heaton

The cover art for Cass McCombs' second album Prefection superimposes a galaxy of stars on a human body. It's fitting. McCombs' songs seem to exist on some other astral plane, yet they're also very physical. The language is both visceral and metaphysical. The music taunts us with a head-in-the-clouds feeling yet is filled with things you can really get a grip on, from melodies catchy enough to rival today's current college-radio hits to guitars that roar and crunch.

Most reviews of Cass McCombs recordings (positive reviews, even) refer to his music as 'inscrutable' or 'hard to penetrate', and there's a simple reason for that: it's true. As a lyricist he comes off as a poet or mystic who is obsessed with mathematics, with animalistic imagery, and with non-sequiturs. The first song on Prefection includes lines about stars becoming human to attend a wedding, where they "twist and thrust and whine and grope / as if under a microscope / in hope to catch smallpox." And every song is just as filled with fascinating turns towards the bizarre.

As a musician McCombs seems to draw inspiration from all over the place, without settling for an easily categorized sound. There's hints of The Smiths, nods toward space-bound rock, even a metallic edge in places, but also tunes that run in the melodic footsteps of the Beatles. A tuneful shuffle like "Subtraction" could slip onto the radio next to The Strokes without anyone noticing, though its words are so much more confounding and emotionally complex than anything which that band could ever come up with. Ultimately that's one of Prefection's chief successes: to make pop-rock music in the general vein of bands everyone likes, but to make that music sound strange and puzzling at every step of the way.


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