On his website, McCombs claims that this fifth record is a venture “going deeper into the mania of a man buried alive inside his self-made catacombs,” indicating that this album is a continuation and further explanation of said metaphor. However, even without this tidbit of knowledge from the man, Wit’s End is inclination enough to denote this surge to a more intricate and deeper reaching sound for Cass McCombs.
Wit’s End begins on a nonchalant note: the slow-moving drum beats and Cass’s gentle voice just sort of slips you into to his realm of ambiguity. No moment of anticipation, or calm before the storm, rather, in an instant you’re with him on an adventure to discover, or explore the human psyche. Such is the case with “County Line,” and continues onto “The Lonely Doll,” in which an eerie lullaby tinkling meanders through the song meanwhile you are narrated through a spindly tale of the title character. At this point, McCombs comes off as a Bob Dylan esque figure in getting lost in his own mind. “Buried Alive” describes this feeling as being “in a sea of black” and you can’t help but empathize with this man; we’ve all such a feeling of lost-ness somewhere along the way and Wit’s End makes this feel natural, and even right.
As far as the actual music goes, there is not too much to rave on about. It fits with the overwhelmingly powerful lyrics, and I think that is all that really matters for this album. Yes, there is the softly eroding piano on numbers like “Saturday Song,” that slowly beats you down with every press of the keys. And yes, there is the tender horn-work on the finisher “A Knock Upon the Door,” but there isn’t a reliance on that musical crescendo of majestic beauty. Cass McCombs is unapologetically cryptic and shady because that’s just the way he is.
At first listen, it seems that Mr. McCombs may have gone too far around the bend. The soft plucking of the guitar accompanied by his whisper of a voice sounds akin to that of a jaded old man with several regrets and misfortunes. However, the more listens acquired, the easier it is to ascertain the meaning behind this mans’ madness. Or if no meaning arises to your ears, it is at least devastatingly interesting to listen to the plight of another. It will grow on you.