Over the span of seven releases, Cass McCombs has asserted himself as a premium songwriter. He wistfully encapsulates wisdom beyond his years, stepping from style to style without losing his roots in folk with a dreamy twist. With his 8th album, Mangy Love, McCombs showcases glittering ballads that innovate and further his songwriting prowess, lyrically exploring the world though a sociopolitical lens.
The album starts off with a somber tune, “Bum Bum Bum”, a discussion of the racism and corruption of modern society, and primarily going after the military-industrial complex. The melody is haunting, McCombs slowly intoning about how “eulogies poured from the stage/ But nothing changed.” Later, “Laughter is the Best Medicine” explores eerie synth effects, while Reverend Goat Carson’s words ripple beneath. McCombs concocts a recipe for healing, a groovy backdrop of ‘70s sounds — flute, jazzy solos, and funky reverb.
“Opposite House” continues the sultry, nostalgic vibes with guest vocals by Angel Olsen. “Mine is an opposite house/ Rain inside when it’s sunny out/ Outside in/ Inside out,” McCombs cries out. This thread of dichotomy winds its way throughout the songs; in this song, languid, blissful instrumentation blends with raw lyrics discussing mental illness. Throughout the album, jarring rhythms and blissful melodies clash and link to reveal hidden meanings. This surreal quality elevates Mangy Love and leaves the listener wanting more.
Elsewhere, “Medusa’s Outhouse” takes on the mythic epic, with beat poetry weaving its way into its cadence. The album also returns to McCombs’ origins with “Low Flyin’ Bird”, showcasing bluesy electric guitar, pristine vocals, and glittering piano appearances. Synth-heavy “Switch” echoes psychedelic sounds to its core, sensually analyzing relationships and their mercurial nature. The album winds to a close with “I’m a Shoe”, a lilting, six-minute song with a harsh bluesy feel. “I’m a shoe/ And so are you,” McCombs sings. The old-timey feel of the song encapsulates the desire to wander and not remain stagnant, much like the adventurous spirit of the album.
McCombs toys with new genres as well, exemplified on “Run Sister Run”. The song sounds like it was plucked from the ‘80s and dusted off, with calypso grooves and guitar work akin to that of The Police. However, even on this beat-centric song, McCombs has fevered flashes of the power of the patriarchy: “They’re coming at you from all sides/ To imprint your body and say they didn’t.” The paranoiac ’80s feel continues on “In a Chinese Alley”, eerie lyricism punctuated by droning sounds and cascading piano lines that create an uneasy feeling.
“It” nails the state of our political climate today, opening with an angelic chorale hovering above the guitar’s melodies as McCombs speaks necessary truths. “It is not wealth/ To have more than others/ It is not peace/ When others are in pain.” The harmonious voices chime in at just the right, sublime moments following the chorus. “I want to know/ I want to know/ How can it stop when there’s nowhere to go?” The song ends with a lurch, as McCombs articulates how so many of us feel: wanting to fix it all, but not knowing where to start.
Mangy Love explores new sonic directions for McCombs without drifting too far away from his past. He works in a variety of styles here, yet keeps continuity through politically charged lyrics and imaginative storytelling. The dynamic range of this record, both lyrically and musically, makes it one of his most versatile and assertive releases yet.
Essential Tracks: “Run Sister Run”, “Opposite House”, and “It”