Album Review: Cass McCombs - Tip Of The Sphere

5 February 2019 | 12:15 pm | Chris Familton

"Eloquent, contemplative and for the most part intriguing and absorbing."

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For a number of years, across seven albums, Cass McCombs flew under the radar for the most part. He was recognised for his work but it wasn’t until the critical acclaim and success of Mangy Love in 2016 that he went overground and found himself the talk of the indie world. That album was a fairly direct affair with a smooth veneer and darker themes lurking beneath the surface. Now, on Tip Of The Sphere, McCombs has taken a more circuitous route with a more cohesive, hypnotic and searching sound.

There’s a bucolic feel to much of the album, Estrella being a typical example of the way McCombs weaves a '70s folk aesthetic into dreamy indie-rock. There’s a fair amount of repeated phrases and insistent bass rhythms that add to the heady, aqueous and meditative vibe. Real Life is like Tim Buckley jamming with Porno For Pyros with its percussion, strummed guitars and new age mysticism. The album centrepiece Sleeping Volcanoes is a real highlight with cascading guitars, primitive yet pulsating bass and McCombs’ constantly renegotiated vocal melodies forging a gentle path through the song. Prayer For Another Day is a more intellectually astute cousin to Kurt Vile, heading closer to the newer work of Steve Gunn. 

Perhaps sensing a need to inject some aural unease into proceedings, American Canyon Sutra is a queasy trip through spoken word over a minimal drum machine that distracts rather than provide an engaging contrast. It’s only a momentary blip before the cosmic psych-folk resumes and the album closes out with the ten-minute countrified jazz-fusion noodling of Rounder, a glowing reverie of sun-kissed guitars that embarks, mid-song, on a psychedelic journey that sounds like it could wind on endlessly into the cosmos.

All in all this feels like an intimate set of creative and explorative musical expositions. Eloquent, contemplative and for the most part intriguing and absorbing.