Following the acclaimed 2019 epic Tip of the Sphere, Cass McCombs returns here with a more succinct, though no less genre-bending effort across the eight tracks of Heartmind. McCombs' art has often been an elusive thing, a silhouette of singer/songwriter tradition lit by strange, spectral sunlight. While career highs like 2016's luscious Mangy Love or the homage-heavy, eerily gorgeous Big Wheel and Others (2013) often rewarded listeners with glimpses of clarity through the clouds, here McCombs is happy to allow the listener to discover their delights through repetition, nuance, and texture.
Photo by Giovanni Duca With each album, Cass McCombs mischievously sidesteps expectations of where his music might head next. Heartmind, his tenth, adds another facet to this cracked songwriting diamond. At times frivolous, at others earnest, the album is persistently difficult to parse, despite its redoubtable qualities. As the title suggests, Heartmind attempts to bring together two poles that notoriously repel each other.
Ten albums in, does anyone know the real Cass McCombs? The Californian singer-songwriter has always evaded easy categorisation, breezing through various scenes and US cities like musical weather; from his stripped-back Americana foundations, his music has flitted stylistically, often across the same record, from folk to jazz to art-pop to soft rock. That McCombs' thoughts reveal themselves through a curious, arms-length storytelling - unreliable narration, oblique references, quirky non-sequiturs - only adds to an odd sense of unknowability: his music has hidden layers and double meanings; a sleight-of-hand that leaves his songs open to interpretation. It has perhaps impeded his success, which remains cult-like.