Tip of the Sphere
Once upon a time, Cass McCombs would have presented himself as a folkie, a brooding dude armed with a crisp acoustic guitar and moody, sometimes-inscrutable songs. He can’t be pigeonholed so easily today. The engrossing Tip of the Sphere, his ninth full-length work, colors McCombs’ evocative tunes with everything from tabla to mellotron to violin, turning what could have been straightforward folk-pop into a less-predictable experience prone to subtly weird turns. A master of gnawing discontent, McCombs sings with an uneasy edge that can obscure the shimmering beauty of his melodies. The breathtaking “Estrella” aches for an elusive lover, lamenting a “ribbon of distance” and confessing, “Your laughter still rattles me,” while “Tying Up Loose Ends” wistfully ponders “a box of old family photographs,” asking, “Is there anyone still left who can tell me/Who these people are?” as it casts a fog of melancholy. Cass McCombs never chooses the obvious gesture, which makes his music all the more durable and compelling.