Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated recent release he thinks we need to know about. This week it's Cass McCombs' Catacombs that he thought was out, but is actually only out in the UK, which explains why he thought so many people were sleeping on it. Regardless, it jams. Hear a few tracks from the album, be sure to buy it next week and read Schnipper's thoughts on it after the jump.
I never much listened to Cass McCombs before this weekend. I saw him play about five years ago in Baltimore, where I figured he still lived. I believe he played sitting cross legged on the stage. Pretty sure someone had hand drums. It was okay. I did know, however, that his music inspired some fierce, panting captivation by a lot of people, well, a lot of guys. This included, apparently, Girls, a band that I am sure will inspire similar fiery obsessions. Girls covered “Dreams Come True Girl” the first single from McCombs’ new album, Catacombs, and a video of that made it to the internet. It’s a fairly faithful cover, preceded by the brief prologue of a few bars of Elvis Presley’s “Fools Rush In.” The difference in Girls’ version is that the song takes on a surf swing, two electric guitars plinking duel twang. I yelled the song out in request Saturday night at the end of their set. It was met with a headshake. Apparently Girls don’t feel they can do McCombs justice.
And Neither does Zac Pennington, a music writer and #1 Cass fan who cannot unstutter himself out of a meta-spiral of awkward praise. “When it comes to writing about stuff that I really, really love dearly, it's like pulling teeth with salad tongs. In this sense, the music of Cass McCombs has long been one of my greatest creative nemeses—deceptively simple, elusive, and very difficult to do justice to in print,” Pennington writes. He then attempts to do justice anyway, and doesn’t really. “McCombs' elaborate sonic shroud—only reinforced by the one he purposefully surrounds himself with—has a suspiciously enveloping property over time; a syrupy, nostalgic haze with an earwiggy way of embedding itself into eardrums. It may be emotionally blank, but in the same sense, it's also emotionally manipulative—wistfully evocative in a way that's more universal than personal. It's this incredibly elusive quality that's at the heart of McCombs' brilliance—and one that, despite my best efforts, I'm never able to satisfyingly characterize. Trust me on this one—that's a good thing.” To be honest—and no offense Zac—I don’t really want to trust you. As a musician said to me recently, “just listen to the songs.”
I guess that makes what he (and, I guess, I) do pretty useless. McCombs himself isn’t fond of music writing, either. “Why do artists have to vouch for their actions?” he said in an interview with Vice. “It seems counterproductive. Music journalism on the whole is completely outside the world of the creative process and everyone knows it, although it can be a funny game in and of itself. I hardly ever have a negative opinion about music. In fact, it seems to me the only people who have very strong opinions about music are oafish jocks. Men. And there are a lot of them out there. There should be more printed opinions by women in this world.” This makes me think about the Everly Brothers, neither of whom write about music, but both of whom are men who write love songs. McCombs’ “Dreams Come True Girl,” a fairly perfect love song) is fully reminiscent of the Everly Brothers' “All I Have to Do is Dream,” but is essentially the song’s opposite. Whereas the Everly Brothers were pining into the abstract, McCombs’ is celebrating the actuality of his love, her simple physical existence, closeness to him, plain reality. You’re not my dream girl/ you’re not my reality girl/ you’re my dreams come true girl. Being satisfied with the dream, the amorphous romance that the Everly Brothers celebrated, was not enough for McCombs. Or maybe “not enough” isn’t right, either. Maybe McCombs wasn’t looking for a perfect dream, just something reliable and lovingly imperfect.
A friend of mine, another male McCombs obsessive—but not a writer—told me Catacombs is written in tribute to his wife, that she was his solidity during an unstable time. If so, I bet it feels pretty good to listen to “You Saved My Life,” a fairly brazen and forward tribute. Here I stand, alive unto you alive unto you/ because you saved my life/ Now I see there’s so much to lose so much to lose/ because you saved my life/ Darling, now I must live for you. This is so much better than dreaming about a loved one. Nothing is more tangible than your own continued physical presence. To transfer the responsibility of your life could be a heavy burden but he makes it so dignified and selfless. Maybe this explains “Dreams Come True Girl,” miraculous woman kindly picking up your pieces simply because she loves you. In turn, all you have to do is love her back. I’ve been blessed/ your eyes are two moons/ I hope this voyage will not be ending very soon. He makes grateful love sound like an endless vacation. Directionless, it’s nice to know where to look when the moon gets foggy in the city.