Cass McCombs’ wonderful new record, Big Wheel and Others, is a big record, in length (22 tracks), scope and humanity. Ostensibly a folk-rock record, it dabbles in country, blues, rock ‘n’ roll and just about every other genre that can be lumped into the general, overarching term “Americana.” Yet this isn’t a reverent record by any means. Much as his prior records did, such as 2011’s double whammy of Wit’s End and Humor Risk, songs veer into avant-garde atmospherics; lyrics defy their genre’s constraints, such as the country-rockin’ “Big Wheel,” which delves into the manhood country music often stands upon (“the taste of diesel and the sound of big rigs,” he sings, before later undercutting such manly imagery with lyrics like “a man with a man, how more manly can you get? I may be 5-foot-one, but you’re all wet”). Interspersing the tracks are interludes cut from the 1970 documentary short Sean, about a hippie kid who smokes weed, plus two versions of the same song, “Brighter!,” one sung with the late actress Karen Black, with whom McCombs also dueted on the Catacombs highlight “Dreams-Come-True-Girl.” I sat down to ask McCombs about the epic new album.
Cass McCombs' latest record is a confident double-length album that shows his growth over seven albums into one of the foremost singer/songwriters of our generation. Big Wheel takes its time to get going, moving gently from one track to another. As such, even with its hour-plus length, it's an easily approachable album with great variety within a pretty straightforward setup. "Big Wheel" is a bluesy rumination on manhood—"A man with a man, how more manly can you get? I may be five-foot-one, but you're all wet" he sings in a memorable couplet. He pairs lyrics of a sexual love affair in "Morning Star" ( "wring my neck under your thighs" he sings suggestively in the chorus) with gentle country-folk that sounds like the first thing you want to hear upon waking. Perhaps the biggest highlight is "Brighter!," a song included twice, the second time with the late Karen Black taking lead vocals for a sweet, sad farewell. Some of Big Wheel's tracks veer into dad-rock territory, but even then there's usually something more interesting than what meets the eye on deeper listens, like the insane horns that pop up in "Joe Murder" and "Satan Is My Toy" or how "Everything Has to Be Just-So" begins gently and breaks apart into avant-garde atmosphere. Big Wheel and Others needs a few spins to sink in, but once it does, the album reveals itself to be an indelible listen.
While interviewing the band Dream Boys recently, I noted that their jangly new album seemed perfectly timed for fall. That got me thinking of other recent music that is well-suited for cardigan weather, the kind of records you want to snuggle up to when it starts to get cold out. So lots of EDM—j/k! Here are some records to get cozy up with on this first of October.
Dream Boys – Dream Boys
Just as genres like Paisley Underground, C86 and college rock gave ’60s sunshine pop an ’80s makeover, Dream Boys take a modern, emotionally gray yet laid-back approach to producing a detailed guitar-oriented sound. Enjoy poring over the jangly riffs of Dream Boys and read my interview with the band here.
Blouse pulled a bold move for its second album, especially considering the band is still up-and-coming, by radically changing its sound, forgoing the synth-heavy sound of its debut for a pretty straightforward rock sound incorporating new wave and alt-rock elements. It pays off, as Imperium is one of the season’s best rock albums, pairing dreamy vocals and lyrics with an emotionally direct sound.
Actress Karen Black died from cancer last month. Before she passed, she recorded this great song with singer Cass McCombs, who also dueted with Black on the memorable “Dreams-Come-True-Girl,” the opener to 2009’s Catacombs. In this song from the upcoming Big Wheel and Others, Black takes the lead, her voice sounding lively and wild. For fans of Black, this posthumous release is a beautiful gift. The 22-song Big Wheel and Others is due Oct. 15 on Domino, listen to “Brighter” below and “There Can Only Be One” here. McCombs will be at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown Nov. 12, L.A.’s The Echo Nov. 14 and S.F.’s Great American Music Hall Nov. 15.
Glasser – “Design” video
The video for the second single from L.A.-based Glasser’s upcoming Interiors album (preorder on CD or LP) features Glasser’s Cameron Mesirow in a futuristic Mad Men dress dancing with an animated sculpture. It reinforces the message: This is electro-pop fit for a museum, not just the dancefloor. Interiors is due Oct. 8 on True Panther/Matador.
Best Coast’s Fade Away Up for Preorder
L.A.’s Best Coast are following up last year’s excellent The Only Place with a mini album called Fade Away. The seven-song release features two songs she released on Record Store Day—“Fear of My Identity” and “Who Have I Become”—plus five more new ones. It’ll be out Oct 22 on frontwoman Bethany Cosentino’s new label, Jewel City. Read my interview with Best Coast here.
Crystal Antlers – “Rattlesnake” video