Cass McCombs – Heartmind | UNCUT

The former provocateur Diogenes – a kind of Greek hybrid of Slavoj Žižek and Steve Bray – is one of the Cass McCombs’ recent obsessions. Born two and a half millennia ago, Diogenes demonstrated his radical philosophy by living on the streets of Athens, sleeping in a ceramic wine vessel and offending the public with various stunts, all in the service of sticking it to the corrupt ruling class of the time. .

McCombs’ the fascination is understandable, because Diogenes could easily have left his catalog; say, from one of the Californian’s many songs celebrating foreigners, damaged and addicted, “poor and screwed up,” as he put it in 2013 “House on the beach”.

As itinerant as he has often been, McCombs hasn’t made his home in a jar yet. Yet his opaque and twisted lyrics have always dealt with existential and absurd questions: questions of spirituality, morality, property, personal responsibility. That it’s never boring, or in the least serious, is due to McCombs’ use of unreliable narrators, sarcasm, gutter language, and other acts of literary subterfuge. “Silverfish Quilting Testicle”, goes 2005 “Equinox”; a song about the importance of voting is called “Don’t vote”, its equally misleading content; The beautiful “The Morning Star”from 2013 Ferris wheel and others, meditates on the feeling of defecating in space. With McCombssmoke and mirrors are de rigueur, no one is despised and no one has the easy answers.

If all its registers contain fathoms to explore, thought of the heart, his 10th, is one of the deepest. This is a deviation from the course taken in 2016 mangy love and 2019 tip of the sphere: they were brilliant explorations of the American psychedelic rock tradition, presentable enough to meet the in-laws once the weed smell dissipated, and they won McCombs more listeners and applause. thought of the heart is a thornier and ultimately more interesting proposition, returning to the lo-fi experimentation of his previous records on 42 windy minutes.

There are eight tracks here, and almost as many genres, with half the album firmly rooted in American traditions: “Warrior Without Pride” a nostalgic folk waltz with a jazzy rhythm section, a mirage of a Nashville Pentangle; “A Blue, Blue Band” a major country ballad with beautiful harmonies. Both of these songs also feature a violinist Charlie Burnhamthat provides down-to-earth answers to McCombs’ lines with his artfully distressed voice.

Opener “Music is blue” it’s crisp rock with intricate Crimson rhythms, “Karaoke” evoked that of the priest mid 80s pop pump and “Belong to Heaven” is an electric folk with Caribbean accents. This is not the only global influence on thought of the heart: a jet-setter cousin of mangy loveInfluenced by Afrobeat “Run sister, run”, “Krakatau” is full of cumbia with multitrack percussion, the degraded sound like a cassette that Habibi Funk might have found in a cellar. The closing title is perhaps McCombs’ own version of spiritual jazz, with corvid saxophone, Moog synth, electric guitar and uillean pipes – a surprisingly psychedelic instrument – ​​extending the track to eight and a half minutes.

“New land” is positively tropical, a kitschy slice of exoticism with bossa nova chords and artificial bird noises, McCombs’ soft voices backed by a female choir. Listen with half an ear and you’ll notice lines on “such a beautiful day” and “today is the birth of a new earth”, but dig a little deeper, and some kind of apocalypse seems to have happened, perhaps the destruction of the earth itself. This “have a good day“, you realize, came “after a very, very, very bad day”, McCombs enthusiastic “thank god the time is over”. Elsewhere in the song, “tweets have been muted all season… Mr. Musk was on a bad streak/simmering in his bullion like a fake chef…

“Warrior Without Pride” plays the same trick as “New land” and “Don’t vote”. The story of a young demobilized soldier, he first romanticizes the fate of the veteran: “September 2, 2017/It’s your release date, etched in your soul/It’s been almost two years now, it went by so fast”. The character suffers from what he has done and the reality of war compared to the movies. But as the picture becomes clearer, McCombs suggests that he alone is responsible for his choices –”a soldier is not a cog, but a man, like any other”. He even argues that youth is no excuse, pointing to the ages at which Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, Southeast of Hinton The foreigners and Stephen Crane The Red Badge of Couragewhich is still known as one of the most realistic portrayals of war / Even though Crane was born after the Civil War ended”. It’s brave, but it works.

McCombs primarily uses his Twitter account to pay tribute to deceased artists and friends, and thought of the heart is dedicated to three of his fallen companions, Neal Casal, Chet ‘JR’ for girls, white and Sam Jayne. “Belong to Heaven” is an appropriate, heartfelt and touching but always nuanced memorial –”for all the questions i want to ask/i hope you finally find peace…so far away from it all now/i guess it doesn’t matter anyway”.

As Thomas Yorke, McCombs has a voice that sounds infinitely sincere, and like Yorke, this means that the humor in his lyrics can often be lost. There is however a lot of comedy on thought of the heart. “Karaoke” opens in a bar, a character taking center stage, “a Cloth, a Supreme/And reading on a television screen”. Cheerfully dotting its lines with classic karaoke titles, it raises questions about authenticity and the roles we play. “Guess I’m a karaoke load too“, he concludes. It’s a real earworm, the only track here that might move “County Lines” as McCombs’ ‘hit’.

“A Blue, Blue Band” also provides mild relief. The story of a band from Virginia City, Nevada, in a blue van, which makes the audience blue too, it winds through several comedic verses – “there is a wonderful harmonica player whose name escapes me now– before ending with a reminder of the power of music, an echo of the opening “Music is Blue”: “Hear them play what weighs heavy on your heart”.

Perhaps this is McCombs’ conclusions on thought of the heart: that music, from karaoke to bar ballads, can affect us in ways that nothing else can, can change hearts and minds even more than sleeping in a jar. The message is vague, even rough, like in real life, more often than in song.

Ultimately, it’s unwise to pin this endlessly complex songwriter’s work to a single slogan or meaning. His songs aren’t always easy, they aren’t always straightforward, but after 10 albums they’re building up to create one of the most impressive bodies of work of the century to date. Surely Diogenes would have dug it too.

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