Maybe a minute passed before I knew I'd be singing "Karaoke" for the rest of my life. The second song on Heartmind, the tenth album by Cass McCombs, "Karaoke" is a god-level burst of power-pop perfection, as fetching as anything Cass has ever cut. The springy staccato guitar, the vaporized electric keys, the melody seemingly born for singing or clapping or dancing along: Cass triangulates a perch of his very own out among The Go-Betweens, The dB's, and The Cure, and vibrates there, a beacon. And then, of course, there is the song's playful if painful lyrical conceit—the lover who is making all the sacred motions of commitment but whose feelings may be no more deep or real than someone simply reading the lyrics for "Vision of Love" or "Standby Your Man" from some crowded bar's TV screen.
So after harmonizing alone with "Karaoke" for the twentieth time during a solo cross-country drive, I had to ask Cass for myself how it all went down: Was this heartbreak, or was it legit love? He paused, thought, then laughed. "Well, that's the question, "he said slowly. "Neither?" Or maybe, he finally averred, both? That is—to me, anyway—the true joy of Heartmind, an eight-song album that feels more like a journey among assorted tuneful feelings, somehow shaped to meet whatever it is a particular listener needs, to mirror whatever they bring to these uniformly incandescent and tragicomic tracks .Cass has set the stage, but you get to pick the heroes and villains, the winners and losers, the jokes and the drags. He doesn't want to give you the questions, let alone the answers.