It’s certainly not easy to get a handle on Cass McCombs’ M.O. Over the last 15 years or so, McCombs has made a habit of shifting genres on an ongoing basis, playing out the role of a singer/songwriter who’s pulled in any number of different directions. While he’s fully capable of more orthodox intentions — that is, making music that shows off his melodic instincts with unfiltered ambition — he’s also been known to delve into psychedelia, punk, alt-country and all manner of garage band happenstance.
After taking a slight detour earlier this year with a makeshift super group that goes by the name Skiffle Players, McCombs makes a quick return with Mangy Love, an album that bears a title as abstract as his endeavors. The material initially sees a steady shift early on, from the melodic folk tunings of album opener “Bum Bum Bum” to the edgier effort that follows, “Rancid Girl” and through to the track that follows that, the languid yet soulful “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” Consequently, newcomers will have a difficult time getting a handle on McCombs’ MO, while faithful followers will simply commend him on his musical shapeshifting.
To be sure, Mangy Love isn’t very frayed at all; in fact, it’s one of the mellower outings he’s offered overall, as evidenced by “Opposite House,” “Medusa’s Outhouse” and the shimmering keyboards that sparkle throughout “Low Flying Bird” in particular. Still, one can’t help but get the feeling there’s something sinister lurking in these supple grooves, a suggestion that McCombs’ sly, soulful delivery isn’t as passive as it appears.