Dusted Reviews

Cass McCombs - Humor Risk

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Cass McCombs

Album: Humor Risk

Label: Domino

Review date: Nov. 8, 2011

Cass McCombs is the reluctant press subject in the age of the over-exposed musician. Brandon Bussolini handled this angle in a smart, jovial manner with his review of McCombs LP Wit’s End from earlier this year. In one sense, there’s something admirable about a musician not taking part in the 21st century PR machine that commodifies music and musician alike, turning them into fodder for Nissan Sentra commercials. If he were an actual Salinger, he’d just release his music online and let whomever finds it be his audience, but one does need to make a living, and perhaps, as he says in his Pitchfork interview, it really is about letting the mystery add an interesting dimension to the music.

McCombs isn’t someone like 20th century philosopher Martin Heidegger, though, who has numerous books dedicated to examining whether his Nazism shows up in his proto-existentialist philosophy. McCombs is a pleasant songwriter, but no one really cares whether his nomadic tendencies show up in his music or not, or how the biographic bits of his life punch their way through to his lyrics. While his PR firewall has perhaps created some mystery, there has to be a detective in the first place.

Bussolini said a lot of interesting things in his take on Wit’s End, though I think McCombs has more to him than that. On Humor Risk, like many of his other albums, McCombs shows himself to be one of those artists whose full array of influences combine to create something more than some meager derivative. There’s a lot of 1950s and ’60s pop, ’70s rock, and indie rock from the past two decades. Older albums even have some tinges of R&B and old country. Hodgepodges like this can be a mess as the influences fight each other, but McCombs’ influences express themselves in his music with the least amount of psychic violence, so it all sounds natural together, held whole by McCombs’ soft voice.

The lyrics on Humor Risk are clever but not pretentious or attempting to dodge deeper meaning. Usually, clever is used to describe art that lacks substance. A clever joke doesn’t elicit a visceral laugh. It makes you say, “Oh, nice. I see what you did.” (See any stand-up show in Brooklyn.) For example, the first song “Love Thine Enemy” – “Love thine enemy / But hate the lack of sincerity” – feels like it could just be a quasi-clever couplet, but throughout the song, McCombs explores that idea. In expanding this, the sentiment becomes more meaningful without ever discarding that playful spirit. In the hands of someone less skilled, it would just end up a tossed-off jokey saying.

While McCombs may not transcend his influences, his sense of … well, humor on Humor Risk does set him apart from the current crop of guitar-based musicians that wallow in the dour and faux-clever.

By Andrew Beckerman

Other Reviews of Cass McCombs

Not the Way


Dropping the Writ


Wit’s End

Read More

View all articles by Andrew Beckerman

Find out more about Domino

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.