Cass McCombs - Prefection (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Cass McCombs

Prefection (2005)


It's not often that a musical album can take on qualities of the weather. "Stormy, with a 64% chance of rain" isn't something any of you are likely to read about when talking about your favorite songs, but yet, Cass McCombs throws a monkey into that wrench. If one word can be attributed to Prefection, it's 'dreary.' The soundscapes on this album are nothing short of bleak, no matter how much life McCombs is able to inject into the verses.

McCombs puts listeners in an interesting position, with voices ranging from Motown to Morrissey, to fuzz-laden, dark pyschedelia, he knows no genre lines, seemingly tying together his influences with the strongest of knots. Any sort of uniform theme seems to escape McCombs, but that could just as easily work in his favor. His ability work well in a variety of settings, and his ability to form his voice around those settings says great things for the album. "Tourist Woman" finds McCombs in a role much more full of life than in previous songs. Constant fuzz from the post-punk-styled guitars in the background find the singer attempting and succeeding in soaring above it all. "City Of Brotherly Love" is where he soars the highest, however, maybe not in voice, but in overall song structure and with the smooth way in which he drifts through the duration.

Versatility aside, there are some instances in which the album hits a speed bump or two. "She's Still Suffering" seems to drag much longer than necessary, the only saving grace being the keyboards that fit just well enough to play off the mood. McCombs himself seems uncharacteristically flat until halfway through the song, and while the following song "Cuckoo" has its moments, much of it seems to be filler. Those gripes aside, McCombs does excel where the singer/songwriter contingent needs to most: the autobiographical nature of their lyrics.

Through a tight weave of deeply autobiographical storytelling and fictional characters and situations, McCombs is able to cleverly tell his stories without opening the window to his personal life too far to be able to close. Like many of the more acclaimed singer/songwriters, he has a clever way about his words and storytelling that weaves complicated webs, but not so much so that the average listener can't relate. Take the aforementioned "City Of Brotherly Love," where McCombs delicately sings and chooses his words even more carefully; "Let me be more specific; I'm the model and you're the mythic / And now you get tossed, welly, welly, well, who doesn't owe to you? / No guardian nor craft, yes I've read my Plato too." Not all of his stories are so easily deciphered, as that example would attest, but the heart on the sleeve approach has its time on the album as well.

I can always find it easy to appreciate when an artist ties together diverse influences in a cohesive package, but there are some instances of filler here, and instances where songs and instrumentation get too muddled for a solid flow to continue. More often than not, however, this album is home to strong songwriting, and McCombs' even stronger voice. Perfection? No. Prefection? Sure, why not.