Secret Meeting score: 75
by Philip Moss
In 2016, Cass McCombs released Mangy Love – not only the cult songwriter’s best long player, but the most consistent. A sprawling record that slowly seeped its way under your skin, and brought together all the best moments from his fifteen year career.
Released this week, his eighth record, Tip of the Sphere, is in many ways the continuum on a theme. But it would certainly have benefitted from some editing. Its bookend tracks, I Followed The River South to What and Rounder are both adequate enough – they’re melodically sound and benefit from the same Grateful Dead-alike truckin’ guitars found on the album’s predecessor. But by golly gosh, they are three and seven minutes too long respectively – the latter descending into a totally pointless, emotionless pluckathon that goes – precisely – nowhere.
At the record’s heart though, are its best two songs. Real Life is a meditative number, backed by bongos and gentle pianos, as Cass sings to an unnamed and somewhat ambiguous character named ‘A’– ‘Were A your nuclear bomb, what would I dream? And would A care at all/ Would I squint into the gleam?’ Throughout, it showcases his fine vocals, but its near falsetto chorus refrain is a thing of sheer beauty. While Sleeping Volcanoes, which is the LP’s most overtly pop moment, is driven by Dan Horne’s propelled bass, and finds McCombs ironically calling for help from an impending Armageddon.
The most unexpected cut here is American Canyon Sutra – a spoken word piece, backed by trippy drum machines and drone guitars. McCombs laments the gentrification taking place in modern day America, and its ‘progressions’ that have – to his mind – made his country ‘look exactly the same’. But overall, there aren’t too many surprises offered up and it is pretty much business as usual. Like Mangy Love, Tip of the Sphere is an album that long term fans will grow to love.