Whose emotions are these, anyway? Cass McCombs’s 10th album is an easy, rolling record that grapples with inner complexity, telling stories about musicians and soldiers, lovers and seekers. Even as this seasoned US singer-songwriter butts up against philosophical quandaries or quotes from Sufism, he never loses track of the everyday. When he isn’t making singular records, McCombs has worked in demolition and crashed on couches; his is a landscape of fast-food restaurants and karaoke machines, where vans break down, people make mistakes and die too soon.
A gentle, psychedelic wash glazes this set of songs whose musical erudition is worn lightly. The album’s opener, Music Is Blue, is a masterclass in how to wring effortless prettiness out of progressive time signatures and jazz drums. The lovely Karaoke is a lovelorn Teenage Fanclub shuffle that wonders whether we all just perform secondhand emotions, where McCombs questions a relationship quoting everything from Unchained Melody to Stand By Your Man. The exceptional Unproud Warrior, by contrast, spins the tale of a soldier returned from war, living with the consequences of choices he has made; the question of his culpability is greyed out magnificently.
This album of knotty nuance bathed in melodic succour is formally dedicated to McCombs’s recently fallen musical comrades, Chet JR White, Sam Jayne and Neal Casal, who “surrendered undefeated”.