Dan Mangan – Oh Fortune

January 01, 1970

(Arts & Crafts)




It takes more than a casual spin to appreciate a fine
lyricist, and one of the joys in Dan Mangan’s music has been discovering just
how pithy his writing is when you really lock in on the words. Thankfully, his
songwriting and sneaky-good arrangements haven’t lagged far behind, so it’s
been a treat letting the music exist on its own as well. But with his ambitious
third full-length the question has become whether more ambitious songwriting
and arrangements have eclipsed what was Mangan’s strong suit: his storytelling.


Mangan’s last record — 2009’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice – was indeed very nice, its narratives and
memorable turns of phrase earning him critical kudos and a spot on Canada’s  Polaris Music Prize shortlist.  The music was a simple hybrid of folk,
country, indie rock and pop elements, with arrangements that made judicious use
of horns and strings, some in full orchestral bloom, others as Andrew Bird-like
adornments. It was just the right subdued setting for the lyricist, who tossed
off vivid lines like “Paint your pickets white and beat your wife/just don’t
forget to shut the blinds” (from the anti-hypocrisy lament “Some People”) with
nearly every stanza.


But on his latest, Mangan wanted to expand his sonic textures
and avoid pigeon-holing as the clever folky troubadour. The result is a more
extravagant recording, built with free-jazz experimentalists Gord Grdina
(guitar), Kenton Loewen (drums) and John Walsh (bass), as well as a near
orchestra that helped shape the production. Seattle’s Eyvind Kang (Beck, Mike
Patton, Marc Ribot) was called in to write lush arrangements, too, and they’re
a stand-out, announcing Mangan’s intention right off the bat with a full-band
waltz on opener “About As Helpful As You Can Without Being Any Help at All.”


The music shifts between quiet verses and raucous choruses,
Mangan sounding like Adem fronting Arcade Fire or Broken Social Scene at times.
Many of the songs drift into each other on hazy synth sections that fade out as
the next song is unveiled. But on tracks like the marching-snare-and-guitar-squiggles
“How Darwinian,” the stadium-size rocker “Rows of Houses” and BSS-like “Post
War Blues, Mangan turns to themes of societal manipulation, post-traumatic
stress syndrome and urban sprawl. The lyrics eschew the fine detail that
highlighted his previous records for broader, more didactic brushstrokes. That
fits Mangan’s new music personality, but also highlights what’s now missing as
well. Maybe it’s just a question of getting used to this new Mangan, but you
can’t help but lament the old one’s demise.


DOWNLOAD:  “Post-War Blues” “Starts With Them, Ends With
Us” “Jeopardy”    JOHN SCHACHT


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