There was this cassette tape that my parents use to put on for me when I couldn’t sleep as a kid. It was a women’s voice on that tape and I remember it pretty clearly. The chords playing behind here were muted and wispy; her voice floated above it as if on a cloud. Every song was a sort of slow waltz backed by what sounded like a stand up bass. I remember the tape had this wooden box it came in, painted yellow like a school bus, and the lyrics sounded exactly as you would imagine they would. Wit’s end is like that too, but with one difference, it’s terrifying. Cass McCombs brings that same sleepy time feel to the table, and it would be hard deny that his songs have a waltz quality to them. Not to mention that Cass at times channels the ghost of Lou Reed’s voice circa 1967. But there is a certain eerie undertone to those songs that shifts between humdrum heartache and the darker emotions that are so often associated with it. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Wit’s End is not for sleeping to, it’s for restless nights and sickly conclusions.
While the creepy aesthetic does go a long way for the album, its strong songwriting and skillfully crafted lyrics carry it. The musical interludes between lyrics are interesting enough to keep the listener in the chair without being tasteless or overdone. Taste is a word that I imagine comes up frequently when discussing McComb’s work. He comes across as a crooner, a bit of a lounge singer. Not the kind you would expect to find in a nice hotel lobby though, rather the smoke filled noir dive bar type. And this personality works for him. He sounds like someone who is at the bottom, someone with nothing to lose, and yes, someone at Wit’s End. I sit listening to his record and I’m transformed. I’m smoking a cigar in a dimly lit room. I’m drinking scotch. I’m alone, and I’d rather be left to my drink in piece. But on stage is this guy who won’t stop singing despite a lack of interest. And maybe it’s the booze but everyone in the place starts listening, and it is quieter than it has ever been.
McComb’s puts out a lot of music and that works for him too. In a world where musicans rise and burn out, rinse and repeat, McComb’s comes across as an adult in a kids world. Where I’m not sure how many albums the Dirty Projectors could possibly release over their career, I have no doubt that Cass could continue to put out music until he dies, a lot like a Bonnie “Prince” Billy in that regard, sometimes great, never bad. And that’s cool. Wit’s End is probably good enough to get me to buy every album he puts out from now on, so good on him. It may not be a drop dead great record, but Cass’s voice has a lulling quality that almost hypnotizes you over into his corner, like a pied piper for indie kids. And that’s cool too.