It is no exaggeration to say that Ideal Man feels like Andrew Combs’ most intentional album yet. An artist who seems never to do anything without earnest, fully realized intention, Combs commits hard to each creative evolution he’s experienced since we first heard him on 2012’s twangy Worried Man. A few years later, he pivoted toward a more romantic pop country sound with All These Dreams, before landing in a more serious place for the introspective folk of Canyons of My Mind. With each record, we’re introduced to the version of Combs he’s fully immersed in at the moment, but we’re also getting to hear him grow and challenge himself. It never feels like starting from scratch, but instead like a beautiful, multifaceted expansion.
What makes Ideal Man especially stand out is the sense that Combs really had something he needed to say, something deeply personal and meaningful to him. This isn’t only evident in his songwriting, but sonically. Ideal Man is, as the kids say, “aesthetic.” It feels so clearly of a moment and of a world, one masterminded by Combs and his producer, Sam Cohen. It isn’t just a collection of songs, it’s a feeling. Creating this feeling, this world, this moment, includes a lot of synth and distortion, which results not in a cold, electronic vibe, but a psychedelic, groovy one. Whether in the contrast-y harmonies of opening track “Stars of Longing,” the smoky, world-weary ones in “Born Without a Clue,” or the clean and steady ones of “Save Somebody Else,” Combs warmly invites us in. Lyrically, he is manifesting and encouraging empathy and compassion in these songs and across the album. He’s putting in the work and coming out the other side much lighter.
Part of this work comes, undoubtedly, from Combs becoming a father. Tender moments such as the swooning tearjerker “Like a Feather” and the smooth, pastoral “Golden” find him trying to freeze time and savor the sweetness of the lessons he’s learning himself and the ones he’s imparting to his daughter. Ideal Man is not only evidence of Combs’ growth as an artist, but as a person, one who longs for a better world where love reigns over hate and fear.