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Cass McCombs: Catacombs

Spaced-out singer-songwriter Cass McCombs seems to be begging critics to take cheap shots at his fourth album of shape-shifting, Roy Orbison-tinged folk: He opens with a drowsy, overlong ballad called “Dreams-Come-True-Girl” that plays more like “Dreams-Never-End-Girl.” But McCombs’ deceivingly polite brand of indie-folk has always flirted with tackiness and excess: “AIDS In Africa,” from 2005’s A, babbled its title alongside hallelujahs and a Christmas-carol shuffle. Similarly, Catacombs sets out to provoke with lyrics about workaholic gallows men (“The Executioner’s Song”), monogamous incest (“My Sister, My Spouse”), and the benefits of political apathy (“Don’t Vote”). But the real subversion comes from the melodies, which haunt after one listen, in spite of McCombs’ fascinations with lethargy and clichés sculpted to sound literary. (“All the troubles in my past / that’s just what they are,” seems to be the thesis of “Dreams-Come-True-Girl.”) Even the unabashed loveliness of “Harmonia” feels like a test: It’s tough to tell whether its smiling country psychedelia succeeds in spite of or because of its interminable digressions into pedal-steel jamming. The album’s cover and title baits Freud, so it makes sense that McCombs simply seems to be indulging his instincts on Catacombs. Impressively, though, he advocates excavation of the subconscious by invading the listener’s own, using songs more indelible than the mind says they have any right to be.


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