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Dropping the Writ

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Album Review

After two impressive indie pop-folk-rock albums for Baltimore-based indie Monitor, Cass McCombs' third album, his first for Domino, starts off on the wrong foot with the overly dramatic, theatrical, and angular "Lionkiller." The lyrics are jarring, McCombs' vocals are over-the-top, and the music is repetitious. Once it's out of the way, though, Dropping the Writ is a very good, highly enjoyable record. For all McCombs' arty inclinations, at heart he is a pop songwriter capable of crafting melodies and hooks that draw you in and at times knock you out. All the proof you need is in "That's That," a shuddering midtempo track that, with a slicker arrangement (and different lyrics that don't mention cleaning toilets in a Baltimore nightclub), wouldn't sound out of place on a Lindsey Buckingham solo album. Or in "Crick in My Neck," with its swooping doo wop background harmonies, chiming guitars, and galloping hooks. Or "Windfall," with its pristine acoustic guitar lines, McCombs' soaring vocals, and lovely yearning melody. Still, those artistic tendencies do keep popping up, mostly in the lyrics but occasionally in his habit of stretching his voice past its range and yelping to make a point (check "Lionkiller" or "Wheel of Fortune"). It can prove off-putting when it occurs, but mostly McCombs maintains a steady balance between weirdness and accessibility on the album. Anyone who finds comfort in the soft melancholy of Iron & Wine, the intimate vulnerability of the first Rogue Wave album, or again, the willful iconoclasm of Lindsey Buckingham's best work will find much to admire here. If you can connect with the left-field nature of the lyrics and the occasional flights of artistic fancy, you might even find love with Dropping the Writ.


Born: 1977 in Concord, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

After bouncing around the country writing songs and honing his craft, singer/songwriter Cass McCombs' insightful and emotionally rich work caught the ear of Baltimore label Monitor Records, who released his first EP, 2002's Not the Way. McCombs' first album, A, was released early the following year and was distributed in Europe and the U.K. by 4AD. Early in 2005, the "Sacred Heart" single revealed the more polished and poppy direction of his second album, PREfection, which arrived that spring. Recorded...
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Dropping the Writ, Cass McCombs
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