Cass McCombs: Heartmind (ANTI-) | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, September 30th, 2022  

Cass McCombs



Aug 15, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

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.

What can sound evanescent, the breezy “New Earth” for instance, becomes a fulfilling whole via a refrain that simply repeats until it shines, a carousel becoming more thrilling with each cycle. McCombs doesn’t really deal in hooks here, more in lures.

Similarly, the soft strum of “A Blue, Blue Band” is a tender invite to barroom country (even including Wynonna Judd on vocals for added authenticity) that initially feels gossamer-thin. Though as the titular harmonies and awkward arpeggio roll into one another, seemingly endlessly, the depth and weave of the song are revealed.

The expansive title track builds at iceberg pace through a “Purple Rain” rumble and sparse, erratic, phantom rhythms. “Heart stops and starts/Giving itself away,” McCombs intones, slowly making room for a midnight saxophone, teasing out the soul of the song in the tiniest of increments. McCombs pulls back, slowly releases and retreats, a supremely sophisticated manipulation, finally allowing the song to sigh its departure.

McCombs obfuscates neatly within his lyrics too (check the widespread misunderstanding of 2011’s “Don’t Vote,” made right by his 2020 reiteration “Don’t (Just) Vote” for evidence). Maybe the most interesting lines of the album come with “Unproud Warrior.” “You know you had more choices than they let on/A soldier is not a cog, but a man, like any other,” sings McCombs, adding rare complexity to what appears at first to be a more conventional veteran’s lament.

This intricacy of wording, a hallmark of McCombs’ finest work, continues on recent single “Karaoke,” where he nods to the classics while interrogating the legitimacy of a lover—“You sang a melody, unchained/But will your love godspeed to me?/Are you going to stand by your man?/Or are you just karaoking me?” It’s subtly amusing, another instance of McCombs shading the heart of a song with one hand, slowly revealing it with the other.

While “Belong to Heaven” kicks off like its about to return to the ’60s garage rock that populated 2015’s A Folk Set Apart, it quickly leans into shimmering blue-eyed soul. Transient drum patterns, subsumed voices, and an unsentimental tribute lyric (“Music was all we needed/You’ve got to give it away to keep it/You surrendered undefeated/Now you belong to heaven”) create a lithe, understated salute.

Deceptive in its superficial simplicity, Heartmind is an album that demands, then requites, love and attention. It’s at times evasive, often ambiguous, always sophisticated, and never much less than compelling. For those willing to dedicate their time to exploring its shadowy riches, it’s a gratifying if elusory pleasure. (

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10


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