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Review: Cass McCombs, 'Mangy Love'

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Cass McCombs, <em>Mangy Love</em>.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
Cass McCombs, <em>Mangy Love</em>.

Recalcitrant singer-songwriter Cass McCombs has never cared for The Man. The quiet iconoclast is about to release his eighth studio album, Mangy Love, and not once has he caved to the whims of labels, critics or fans. That's not to say his music is confrontational; in fact, his '70s AM vibe might go down too smoothly for some. But McCombs' dedication to craft and distaste for compromise is unwavering. It's the kind of steely self-confidence that provides fleeting inspiration to the rebel hiding inside all of us, before we go back to whatever pays our bills.

On Mangy Love, McCombs aims his fascist-killing machine at some controversial topics. Right out of the gate, "Bum Bum Bum" calls out the U.S. military-industrial complex: "You think you've heard it all before / Well, here's once more / We're all at war." In "Run Sister Run," he gets explicit about women's reproductive rights: "They're coming at you from all sides / To imprint your body and say they didn't."

McCombs isn't staging this 12-song filibuster by himself. The session musicians conjuring those '70s vibes might constitute his best backing band yet. Bassist and studio wizard Dan Horne teams with Gang Gang Dance drummer Jesse Lee for some Grateful Dead grooves that would make Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann proud, if not a little jealous. Aiding Horne behind the boards is Rob Schnapf, who helped produce some of Elliott Smith's most memorable work. And it needn't go unmentioned that indie-rock do-no-wrong Angel Olsen makes a special appearance in the album's lead single, "Opposite House."

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