Published Aug 24, 2016As a singer/songwriter, it's an achievement to be referred to as a shapeshifter: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and more recently Beck have all enjoyed, long, fruitful careers thanks to their ability to keep their material sounding fresh and their audience guessing.
Cass McCombs has employed a similar strategy over his first seven LPs. He tackled tried-and-true indie rock on 2009's Catacombs, dark folk for 2011's Wit's End, and actual skiffle music as a member of the Skiffle Players, but besides cycling through musical phases over time, the Bay-area artist also maintains his shapeshifting tendencies within each album, trying out new styles on given songs even as the albums maintain a different macro-level sound.
As such, it's not just McCombs' Technicolor aspirations that make his latest, Mangy Love, so absorbing, but his generous use of instrumentation and collaboration. Working with producers Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith) and friend Dan Horne (the Skiffle Players), McCombs' 12 tracks hold together with a gossamer sheen, which works well considering McCombs moves seamlessly from stomping Southwestern fuzz ("Rancid Girl"), to shaved-smooth yacht rock ("Laughter is the Best Medicine"), Lou Reed-poetry-chic ("Cry"), early rocksteady ("Run Sister Run") and '80s Motown funk ("Switch").
Bringing in an incredibly long list of guests, including singer/songwriter Angel Olsen, super-producer Ariel Rechtshaid, Beachwood Sparks drummer Aaron Sperske and cult favourite Rev. Goat Carson, Mangy Love sounds like a collaborative affair from an artist who has the keen ability to keep his musical identity sounding completely idiosyncratic. (Anti)