Cass McCombsw/Mt. Egypt, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
Sun Aug 21, Crocodile, 9 pm, $8
Over the course of two full-lengths and an EP, Baltimore's Cass McCombs has crafted a fine, if incredibly ambiguous, discography. The cloudy, opiated reverb of his six-song debut, Not the Way, the beautifully brilliant (though slightly uneven) molasses folk of A, and the bounding, bizarre British pop leap of his recent PREfection are all obscured in equal parts by the music's muddy production haze and McCombs's knowing lyrical vagaries.
McCombs's music is beautiful, moving, and above all else evocative. His lyrics—sung with a reverb-drenched, nostalgic tenor—marry seemingly exhausted clichés with largely formless narratives, and are at once impressionistically emotive and completely inconsequential.
Up until the recent release of the more band-oriented set on PREfection, McCombs's music has been marked by its remarkably airy simplicity—a uniformity that created an incredibly absorbing environment, despite its generally straightforward guitar, drums, piano, and occasional organ folk setup. PREfection's compositional leaps—most notably its tempo changes and heaving British synths—help and hinder in equal measure, expanding McCombs's elemental vision as much as they crack his well-established spell. Still, his careful cloud becomes even more shadowy—the dark, cold veil of synthesizers obscuring things even more than the walls of reverb, and the lyrics more calculated and indefinite than ever. Whether all of this makes him some sort of aloof genius or just a clever musical illusionist may be debatable; but one thing's for certain about Cass McCombs—he only shows what he wants seen.
On paper, McCombs's many contradictions might make him sound totally incomprehensible—in fact the vast majority of his music is simply palatable indie rock by design. Outside of his effortlessly brilliant melodies, there are few immediate cues that his music is at all discernibly superior to much of what it resembles. His elaborate sonic shroud has a suspiciously enveloping property over time, a syrupy, nostalgic haze with an earwiggy way of embedding itself.