Cass McCombs-A

April 25, 2012

Cass McCombs

A (Monitor 2003)

http://www.mediafire.com/?m5vlzvrbccrtvds

On the surface, the tottering building blocks that lay the groundwork for Cass McCombs’ debut album seem all too predictable and safe for an indie-rock album circa 2003. The Velvet Underground, 4ad, Robyn Hitchcock and Syd Barrett spring to mind upon a cursory cruise through its eleven tracks. However, they years have slowly prodded me deeper and deeper into this lonely, lackadaisical and deceptively lush album and come to the conclusion that A is so much more than the sum of an easily solved equation. In fact, it might actually wind up being cited as a seminal influence all its own once the dust settles after his long and lonesome career is complete.

Many great artists are able to conceptualize their own insular universe over the course of an album. The Stooges inspire dread and nihilistic abandon. My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless embedded you in the middle of a kaleidoscope of feedback. Michael Hurley whisks you off to a crowded campfire where the bottles are quickly drained and the bowl is slowly passed. Cass McCombs’ A isn’t quite a card carrying member of that hallowed crew, but it does inspire a lonely and lost vibe that makes you want to wear pajamas and draw the blinds on the sunniest of days. However, there is a sunny undercurrent that drags it above a self-destructive slog through the depths of depression. It’s one of the first things I reach for on those days where life should go absolutely nowhere for an hour and my hectic existence reaches a much needed standstill. It achieves stasis as it balances majesty and melancholy perfectly on the scales of my mind.

Supposedly recorded after a long, protracted nomadic existence spent bouncing from city to city and couch to couch culminating in a Greyhound bus retreat to a home base of San Francisco, A definitely feels like the work of a restless soul in search of anything that could possibly become familiar someday. “Gee, It’s Good to Be Back Home” is alternately sentimental and sarcastic about his travails as he sweetly sings of how it’s wonderful to be around old friends, but offers up the half-hearted description of his home as a place where you “don’t sleep, don’t eat and don’t drink the foam” as a sad acceptance of the futility of this dark place and the excess it entails.

His detached, kind of downtrodden sarcasm and bitterness raises its weathered and weary head again on “AIDS in Africa” where he paints a landscape where cancer and AIDS decimate the ranks of our beloved while folks praise a benevolent creator who utilizes these tragedies as part of some divine plan. The effect is multiplied by its reliance upon a wheezing, jittery church organ and angelic harmonies, but the message is succinct and decries all who ignore the misery around them and build cocoons in which their minds slumber until eternity calls their inevitable number.

“I Went to the Hospital” captures the transient nature of his life as he ponders the fragility of it all when you face your mortality. He talks of a bout with illness and embarks on a narrative detailing all of the thoughts we all have when the unknown looms large and casts shadow puppets of our regrets and missteps upon the walls of our examination room. It is a meditation on mortality and straddles the line between paranoia and confessional, but that wash of organ and gently jangling chords make it seem like a gentle jaunt once you soak in it a few times.

Ultimately, A is an album full of dread about what has already happened and what may come. He puts on a straight face and conjures a narcotic and dazed aura around each song, but dig beneath the surface and there are countless ghosts that haunt every track. A puts on a brave face, but the fractures reveal themselves with time and make it one of those albums that you listen to when you want to enshroud yourself in defense of your own woes.

Global Communications

76:14 (Dedicated 1994)

http://www.mediafire.com/?zbpv5lhpz3r8wz8

Sometimes I obsessively search for the “perfect” album to post here at the expense of countless ones whose brilliance is overshadowed by the filler that hinders its chance at greatness. That’s a shame since this omits so many beloved fragments just because they don’t quite complete the jigsaw puzzle I’ve built up in my snooty mind. These meanderings rambled through my noggin as I revisited Global Communications’ 76:14 album for the first time in a decade and literally became teary-eyed while listening to the opening strains of “14.31.” All of 76:14’s titles signify their length and I found myself wishing it could be renamed something approximating” infinity and beyond” as a deceptively simple trio of a circular keyboard pattern, waxing and waning waves of synthesizers and a ticking clock coalesce into the kind of aural experience that makes you feel like you are levitating a few inches off of the earth. It’s easily one of the true ambient records in that it changes your mood instantly and alters your immediate reality without ever quite rising above a whisper. If only I lugged a blood pressure cuff around for kicks so I could test my new theory that 76:14 lowers my blood pressure when the right tracks are played in my general vicinity.

Global Communication consisted of an English duo, Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton, who were an integral part of the 90s ambient scene popularized by The Orb, early Autechre, Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada. People tend to forget albums like the KLF’s Chill Out and Future Sounds of London’s Lifeforms and artists like Biosphere, Higher Intelligence Agency, Pete Namlook and early Black Dog which is a shame since many of the aforementioned artists released work that fits snugly against the discographies of Brian Eno, Roedelius, Cluster, Moebius and Tangerine Dream, let alone the swath of 70s synth loners that seem to get reissued and snapped up by folks turned onto these sounds by today’s kinded spirits like Emeralds, Oneohtrix Point Never and Steve Moore. Maybe it’s because the 90s ambient scene got lumped into the unfortunate genre of electronica that it gets snubbed due to its unfortunate association with such unfortunate genres as trip-hop and electronica and folks got blinded by the haze of glow sticks and MDMA, but there are so many gems patiently waiting for your discerning ears to validate their existence.

Anyhow, lets get back to the thesis laid out in the first sentence of this rambling mess of a review. 76:14 is by no means a perfect album as a few tracks dull its edge as Pritchard and Middleton let the beat take center stage at the expense of the pristine ambience that is meticulously crafted throughout the remainder of the album. However, even the stinkers are bearable in a mellow, shuffling and aimless way, but 76:14’s summits erase your mental chalkboard pretty quickly and you forgive them for their foibles. I’ve even grown to love “9.25” even though it is centered around a slow-motion breakbeat since it slathers on a healthy slab of 4ad inspired etherealness comlplete with angelic coos and a subliminal wash of whispers that make it just weird enough to pass muster.

Even though I sheepishly admitted that “14.31” nearly reduced me to quivering jelly, the true centerpiece of 76:14 can be found in its majestic finale “12.18.” During my admittedly amateurish research of this album, I consulted the sages at amazon.com who’ve reviewed this album over the past 17 years and was pleasantly surprised to see the litany of praise for this track as one of the most gorgeous ambient compositions of all-time. Yes, it sounds like pure bullshit and sheer hyperbole, but it is so goddamn true. This track sends that same shiver up my spine as Arvo Part, Steve Reich, Roedelius’ Lustwandel, Cocteau Twins’ Treasure, Lisa Gerrard’s Mirror Pool and countless other albums and songs that seem like they were plucked from an alien universe to teach us how life affirming, moving and goddamn radiant music can be when you aim for synchronicity. For once, I must pay tribute to those surprisingly erudite souls at amazon.com because they are right on the money. “12.18” honestly eclipses 99% of anything ever  it labeled as ambient music as qualifies as a spiritual cleansing through sound. It’s the kind of ethereal fog you want to dive into during times of distress as if it were an aural womb. It is a peaceful, calm place where all is right in your godforsaken world and it alone makes this admittedly uneven album a transcendent one.