If you judge a man by his music and stage presence, Cass McCombs may very well be one of the most depressed men to haunt your playlist. All sad waltzes and slow choruses, Wit’s End is a series of musical balloons, popped and lying tattered and torn across the floor. This album is further submerged in hopelessness than his past work. And that’s saying something, considering 2009's Catacombs wasn’t a particularly bubbly affair. But where Catacombs has glimmers of hope, like the nearly perfect “Dreams Come True Girl,” these songs sound like a suicide note.
“Buried Alive” starts promisingly, with faraway organs replicating a Jon Brion soundtrack. Lines like “waking up to the breath of the old/in a sea of black” haunt the hazy nightmare. By the end of the song, it’s almost as if McCombs has trapped his listeners in the tomb with him, twisting and turning us within medieval-sounding chimes. McCombs takes us back centuries with the same sort of bells and organs on “Memory’s Stain” and “Pleasant Shadow Song.”
Though littered with beautiful moments, Wit’s End feels suffocating in its repetition. Each song treads more heavily than the last, dragging the heart into a state of coma. In “Saturday Song,” even when he declares “she’s everything today” in what seems like a profession of love, the plodding piano and funeral march drones transform the song into a pit in the stomach, an indescribably terrifying bout of depressive murk.
It’s understandable that “County Line” was released as the album’s first single. It’s the only song here with a dynamic melody and sense of movement. Everything else drowns under its own weight, trapped in a haunted basement with cobwebs and rusty chandeliers. Unafraid of bursting your bubble, Wit’s End crawls and slithers slowly, unafraid to touch upon the darkest of themes.