Cass McCombs is one mysterious dude. He grew up in Northern California but since then hasn’t managed to live in any one place in particular. He doesn’t do interviews. His web site uses a font that’s a 1/2-inch tall; you can only see about eight lines on the screen at a time. Maybe strangest of all, he has now released two albums this year.
The music he makes doesn’t sound entirely the same from album to album. (He has been featured here twice previously, in 2005 and 2007.) And yet there is over the longer haul an emerging sense of Cass McCombs-iness about what he does—a spectral mix of melody and atmosphere, eloquence and elusiveness. His doggedly echoed voice, alternating between a buzzy whisper and an adenoidal croon, has been with us long enough to be its own thing by just about now, although it won’t sound entirely unfamiliar to fans of either Lloyd Cole or T Bone Burnett. And “The Same Thing,” surely, is a potent song, the determined gait of its minimally-arranged verse underscoring the repeating thematic observation about pain and love being indeed “the same thing.” McCombs draws you in with his words but also dodges your inquiries, as he commonly sings just below the level of aural comprehension, a fact aggravated by his tendency here to sing lyrical lines that don’t scan well with the music. Normally I’m not thrilled with that but when a real wordsmith does it I feel there must be some good reason involved and in this case I suspect further elusiveness.
As for the unexpected, keyboard-induced jauntiness of the song’s bridge-like chorus, I will simply note that those are some of the least happy-go-lucky “la-la-las” in rock’n’roll history. From the enigmatic Mr. McCombs, it seems a satisfying par for the course.
“The Same Thing” is from Humor Risk, the aforementioned second 2011 release for the 34-year-old singer/songwriter, which came out earlier this month; Wit’s End was delivered back in April. These are his fifth and sixth full-length albums, and both arrived via Domino Records. Thanks to Seattle’s mighty KEXP for the MP3, as part of the KEXP blog “Song of the Day” series.