It is difficult to decide whether Cass McCombs is best described as prolific, or just persistent. Since releasing his début, A, in 2003 he has released and album every two years on average; a release rate that may well seem copious to a Tool fan, but isn’t especially frequent in the scheme of things. Regular might be applied, but that would almost imply a consistency to McCombs musical approach that isn’t quite there as – across his oeuvre – McCombs shifts back and forth between folk and Americana, and indie rock, all with a hint of the off kilter never far from hand. Persistent definitely seems the most apt.
With Mangy Love, his 8th studio album, McCombs is in indie-rock mode, but with enough hint of blues, funk/soul, and psychedelia to keep things ‘interesting’. From the twelve songs collected here it’s easy to understand why McCombs did a co-headlining tour with Meat Puppets in 2014. Everything starts off plainly enough with the dreamy guitar, and strong bass line, of the onomatopoeically titled, Bum Bum Bum, but quickly delivers lines such as “oh please tell me you academics/how you wake up from unarmed dreams” to keep things off-balance. Rancid Girl is a groovy piece of blues-rock that is reminiscent of the ‘60s and ‘70s rock.
Angel Olsen lends an assist on Opposite House, providing sweet harmonies with McCombs that juxtapose well with the lyrics that hint at depression through a twisted Alice-in-Wonderland-lens. It is a song worth listening to for the opening guitar part, but the rest ensures it is Mangy Love’s standout track. Run Sister Run propels the listener on with broken reggae syncopations, while In A Chinese Alley sounds like a pastiche of ‘80s pop-rock, although it is worth it just to hear the words “you can find all sorts of things/like a box/inside a box/inside another box” actually included in a song.
By the time McCombs concludes Mangy Love with I’m A Shoe, one is left feeling that he isn’t being different or odd purely for the sake of it – there are too many incisive turns of phrase throughout the album for that to be the case – but the decision to make the album so abstruse remains an odd one. Mangy Love sees McCombs lurch off in unexpected directions, and it truly is a shame that he doesn’t manage to take the listener with him.