“Imagine something really disgusting—crusty, dirty, falling apart—you know, like zombie flesh. If it’s shoddy, gross, and really, really cruddy, it can be called mangy.” So reads the explanation from the writers over at Vocabulary.com on “mangy,” a word with no good connotations going for it. It’s easy to read a lot into why singer/songwriter Cass McCombs chose to name his newest release Mangy Love, making use of a term commonly associated with mutts and mites. There’s certainly a wallowing of sorts on the album, but rather than actual filth, McCombs has taken the opportunity to line up songs of desire, woe and a whole other puzzle of emotions.
On his first release since 2015′s A Folk Set Apart, McCombs presents us with juxtapositions to pass around the table, but he also leaves a few sips of sincerity, heartache, and sheer wisdom. For McCombs, raw emotion comes naturally, even without vocals. In the first 30 seconds of “Bum Bum Bum,” McCombs signifies a flood of emotions to come, as his melancholic guitar chords induce remembrance and sadness. Throughout Mangy Love, triumphant guitar intros reign supreme in McCombs’ castle. On “Opposite House,” McCombs’ fingerpicking evokes images of an ocean breeze, the vocals playing the part of ocean tides.
Lyrically, Mangy Love brews up McCombs’ typically adventurous subject matter. “Medusa’s Outhouse” finds him referencing Greek mythology as he sings, “Calliope dancing on thin air / Ambrosia cotton candy until we’re free from care/ All the rest is up to dreams.” Smooth name drops line up with McCombs’ storytelling manner; it’s descriptive yet casual. On other tracks, McCombs takes advantage of his podium, shining light on societal injustices. On “Run Sister Run,” McCombs exclaims, “Or do male justices piss in a squat? Our sister lives in a squat that pisses on justice, justice is blind and a woman to boot.”
Mangy Love likewise finds McCombs exploring the far reaches of space, as atmospheric synths creep their way into “Switch,” yet balancing out his more pop-friendly tunes are deep, nostalgic songs of longing and solitude, most notably “Cry.” McCombs’ latest set of songs encompasses the spectrum of human emotion, through unpredictable lyrics and divine juxtapositions. The album has its lovable bits, and likewise its moments of mange—the statements we don’t necessarily long to dwell on, but simply can’t deny.