Design By Humans
Published On: Thu, Dec 24th, 2015

A Folk Set Apart – Rarities, B-Sides & Space Junk, ETC: Cass McCombs

cassA Folk Set Apart
Cass McCombs
(Domino Recording Co.)

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You can hear the real and metaphorical dust that has collected on the tapes in folk rock slacker/songwriter Cass McCombs’ collection on A Folk Set Apart: Rarities, B-Sides & Space Junk, Etc. Never sounding as though he came from a particular time or place, McCombs has always peddled a benignly twisted form of rustic off-beatness that cultural critic Greil Marcus might call “That Old, Weird America.” These unreleased tracks and what the indie marketing folks call “rarities” from the McCombs oeuvre, though pleasantly listenable and unoffensive, veer more often towards “Space Junk,” odd-but-unnecessary tunes unapologetically playing to the devotee crowd that still dishes out dollars for so-called rarities, in an age when the very word is a misnomer. Still, this collection holds an interestingly opaque magnifying glass up to the work of one of America’s most intriguing musicians, in McCombs. With earlier tracks like “I Cannot Lie” and “A.Y.D.,” the strains of punk rock are unhidden. What McCombs’ music is, Pitchfork pinpoints well, “A low-key American spirit that joins the personal freedom of ’60s counterculture with the reticence of late-’90s indie rock—cowboy music for people with a lot of library fines.” Many of the song titles are, in a fashion, reflexive, such as “I Cannot Lie,” “At Your Disposal,” and “You Lied to Me,” with spare, distorted and reverby vocals, as if we are hearing the words and ideas bouncing back and forth in McCombs’ mind. There are a few notable successes including a fierce but airy take on Neil Young’s “Bradley Manning.” Other tracks, like “Old As Angry” offer the listener pretty but uneasy guitar plucking and a whispery but good melody that comes forward like a wet rag wrung out, leaning against a discordant note until the harmony matches. A lo-fi, low-intensity grab bag of songs from a standout songwriter, A Folk Set Apart may be worth a dig for those with patience and prior exposure.

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A Folk Set Apart – Rarities, B-Sides & Space Junk, ETC: Cass McCombs