Music review: Cass McCombs's offbeat and back-to-basics rock

In Tip Of The Sphere, singer-songwriter Cass McCombs reinterprets classic 1970s rock.
In Tip Of The Sphere, singer-songwriter Cass McCombs reinterprets classic 1970s rock.PHOTOS: SILVIA GRAV, ANTI-, MERGE

American singer-songwriter Cass McCombs has always been an enigma and Tip Of The Sphere, his ninth album, is no different.

The 11-track album, his first since 2016's acclaimed Mangy Love, defies easy categorisation.

Two sprawling, psychedelic jams bookend the album and while there are plenty of reinterpretations of classic 1970s rock, the 41-year-old also delves into Americana, jazz and classical Indian music to carry his offbeat tales.

While the melodies might be economical, the tracks are subtly intricate - you can barely hear the saxophones in the gentle, piano-led Absentee, for example, but it feels like an integral part of the mix, together with the swelling guitars and McCombs' tender singing.

The musical vibes of the album might be chill overall, but his idiosyncratic lyrics certainly are not.

The seeming paradox of the title extends into the neologisms present in the meandering album closer, Rounder ("Were a radia gunslung/Were a murdream boys room/On a slight of jadeself/Are you tied of drying, rounder?")

Early single Sleeping Volcanoes, as he explains in a press statement, is inspired by "people passing one another on the sidewalk unaware of the emotional volatility they are brushing past, like a sleeping volcano that could erupt at any moment", while the spoken-word drone of American Canyon Sutra sees him ruminating on Walmarts, garbage dumps and "sacred American trash".

  • ROCK/PSYCHEDELIC/ ALTERNATIVE COUNTRY


  • TIP OF THE SPHERE 

    Cass McCombs 

    Anti-

    4 Stars

  • ALTERNATIVE ROCK


  • SUNSHINE ROCK

    Bob Mould 

    Merge

    4 Stars

Less oblique, musically and lyrically, is Sunshine Rock, the latest work from American punk and alternative rock pioneer Bob Mould.

In his 13th solo album, the Husker Du and Sugar frontman goes back to basics for his latest batch of songs.

His trademark brand of brash, overdriven guitars mixed with earworm melodies is not new, but the 58-year-old executes the tried-and-tested with class and style.

Unlike the darker tone of 2016's Patch The Sky, inspired in part by tragedies like the death of his mother, the tone of the new songs is as the album title suggests.

Sunshine Rock is just as personal, but this time, Mould took inspiration from the German city of Berlin, where he has been spending time in the last three years.

"There's a bright light, blinding white light/You're like lightning across the sky/Please don't leave me in total darkness/I'll bring you with me into the sunshine rock," he sings with typical fervour in the upbeat title track as orchestral strings swell in the background.

The lustre continues in Sunny Love Song ("If I write a sunny love song every day/I can shine so bright on you, so true") and Camp Sunshine, a sweet reflection on happy times.

Mould tempers the effervescence with less lively tracks such as Irrational Poison and Sin King, but offers reassurances in dark times, most notably in Lost Faith: "Baby, we all lose faith in troubled times/You know I'm gonna be right here."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2019, with the headline 'Offbeat and back-to-basics rock'. Print Edition | Subscribe