Anyone expecting Catacombs Mark II on Cass McCombs’ fifth album will find themselves a little disappointed. OK, so he has Ariel Rechtshaid, with whom he created that wonderful album, back on co-production duties, but Wit’s End has an altogether more laid-back, horizontal feel than its illustrious 2009 predecessor, and there’s nothing as immediate or as catchy as ‘Dreams Come True Girl’.
Instead, there are only eight tracks, which rarely raise themselves above a funereal crawl. The gentle, almost MOR arrangements, like the meandering jazz-lite of ‘County Line’, hide some of McCombs’ darkest lyrics to date, with loneliness and despair very high on the sombre agenda. Elsewhere, the piano-driven ‘Saturday Song’ wouldn’t seem out of place on a Rufus Wainwright record, the ponderous guitar of ‘Pleasant Shadow Song’ has Cass doing his best Elliott Smith impersonation, while the supremely haunting ‘Buried Alive’ benefits from repeated hearing, especially the bizarre harpsichord solo that bears the song to its finale. On the flip-side, ‘Hermit’s Cave’ is a disturbing listen, and not just because of the cacophonic percussion that cuts in from time to time, sounding like Cass smacking a yard-stick off a desk, while ‘Memory’s Stain’ outstays its welcome by a good half its almost eight-minute duration. That said, the twin waltzes of the Paul Simon-esque ‘The Lonely Doll’ and the epic, closing ‘A Knock Upon The Door’ are worth the price of admission alone.
These songs are not going to grab you on first listen, and truth be told, some of them may never really touch you at all, but the ones that have an effect tend to sneak up on you subtly and inveigle their way under your skin and into your affections before you’ve even realised you’re humming along. Interesting but uneven listening.