Cass McCombs, Catacombs

Andrew Parks

By Andrew Parks

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

As bleak and bruised as many Cass McCombs songs are (see such textured heart-tuggers as "I Went to the Hospital" and "She's Still Suffering"), the guy's clearly one of indie rock's natural-born comedians. In fact, we're willing to bet he's laughing at us right now — loudly — as we flip through the Facebook-esque "model man photos" on and find nothing related to the singer's fourth full-length.

More bleak, bruised strum-und-drang from one of indie-rock’s most underrated songsmiths

Which is fine; McCombs always detested the idea that artists owe us explanations beyond soul-baring songs and saddle-stitched lyric sheets. So with that in mind, what are we left with this time around? An alt-country album, if you can believe that, as steered by steady-handed drums and delicately strummed chords. At least that's the idea you'll take home after a couple listens. Truth be told, Catacombs doesn't reveal its true pleasures until the fourth or fifth spin, as McCombs 'spacious mix pinpoints such subtle/satisfying details as the shimmering synths and lonesome pedal steel of "You Saved My Life." Not to mention welcome detours like the spectral soda shop-pop of "Dreams Come True Girl" (backed by Karen Black of Easy Rider/Five Easy Pieces fame) and the mounting, unresolved tension of "Lionkiller Got Married."

That's right: McCombs 'music is still as restless as his drifter-in-the-dark lifestyle. But hey, at least he's having fun. Or as McCombs admits at the end of "The Executioner's Song," "I'm a pretty lucky guy. I love you and I love my job."