Cass McCombs

Cass McCombs
Not the Way
Monitor, 2002

I like a lot of different types of music. Some of the music that I like, I don't really take that seriously. By that I mean that I respect the music, I enjoy the way it sounds and makes me feel, but that's about it. I don't expect a lot of depth or even intelligence. Hey, I don't discriminate. These bands are playing and having fun and there's nothing wrong with that whatsoever. Everyone wins.
But once in a great while, Venus aligns with Jupiter, which aligns with my CD player, which aligns with my ears, and I am introduced to an artist like Cass McCombs who brings music that's just.. mature.
When I first heard his 2002 debut EP Not the Way, it sounded very familiar and at the same time totally foreign. I've heard tons of music like this but never music like this that's been done so well. It's dark, but not in a doom and gloom, brooding adolescent way or anything. And not dark in a pass-me-the-Lexapro-this-guy-is-a-bummer way either. It's just.. real. McCombs just writes about the world we live in, which, from what I hear, can be pretty dark.
McCombs payed his dues playing open mics in NYC and Baltimore before releasing his debut on Monitor. I mean, this guy showed up just oozing with talent and I think that's why I like this EP so much. It's just a hint of what was to come.
The music is hard to label and I'm not even going to try. Let's just say it's mostly acoustic guitar, bass and drums. Not the Way is very bare bones in terms of production and song arrangement as compared to his later records. Some say his voice, especially on this EP, is an aquired taste. I don't know, I took to it like an Ice Cream Snickers. It's slightly off-key but not in an annoying way or anything. On this record it sounds as if it could just shatter and fall apart at any given second. On later records, like Catacombs, his vocals are far more polished.
Just about everything he has released is stellar, but I would recommend starting here. If he wins you over on this one, you will definitely enjoy his full lengths. I highly recommend A (2003) and Catacombs (2009). If you like it, great. If you don't, well, there's always music that you don't have to think about.