Photograph by Jonathan Taggart

In the spirit of the season, let’s take a moment before we get started to thank Dan Mangan for giving the world ‘Robots‘.

There may not be anything quite as wonderful on Mangan’s new album Oh Fortune as that track from his last release, a plea on behalf of our mechanical friends for the oft-overlooked affection they so require – but so it goes. Oh Fortune is still a gorgeous neo-folk album that tops Nice, Nice, Very Nice on points, comparing favourably with Chad VanGaalen’s Soft Airplane and Andrew Bird’s last few releases. The continuing emergence of the Vancouver-based Mangan plants Canada’s musical epicentre even more firmly on the West Coast, which really isn’t fair since they also got the Olympics and some nice beaches, but what can you do?

There’s a lot to like in Mangan’s congealing style. He’s got a tricky voice that delivers wall-eyed melodrama track after track and somehow still comes across as a little understated. He doesn’t hide behind effects and instrumentation but doesn’t avoid them either; he puts himself out in front of the noise of the track, like Andrew Bird with a better sense of direction. On ‘Daffodil’, when he does slip into vocal filters and a shy moan borrowed from M. Ward, the result is a sublime low-fidelity lullaby.

This isn’t an album for good moods, though. The lyrics are a buffet of death, regret, grief, warfare, dread, more death, and anything else depressing I’ve forgotten to mention. There are tracks titled ‘If I am Dead’ and ‘Regarding Death and Dying’ and ‘Post-War Blues’ and they’re just as resigned, morose, and cynical (respectively) as you’d expect. Anything positive gets crushed out: “Nice to have the kids around – oh my God, it’s killing me” closes out the title track. For his part, Mangan has an explanation for all this: he mentioned in a recent Globe and Mail interview that writing these dark songs helps him live in a better headspace day to day. Food for thought.

So, sure, Oh Fortune is downcast enough that even the entirely sensible phrase “There are leaves on the trees/there are trees in the forest” becomes a down-and-out dirge, but it’s a pleasure to listen to regardless. The stream-of-consciousness inflections in ‘Leaves, Trees, Forest’ and ‘Jeopardy’ are quite something, especially in ‘Jeopardy’ where a string of stock phrases that lie flat on a written page – “Is it meaningful to be angry? Who’s angry? Are you angry? Why do I get the feeling you might be angry?” – tumble helplessly into each other in the music: you can hear tears hiding behind frustration, hidden behind defensiveness, hidden behind world-weary detachment. It’s a sad moment and it’s lovely. That’s Oh Fortune for you.

Dan Mangan – Post-War Blues
Dan Mangan – Oh Fortune
Dan Mangan – Jeopardy


— , October 12, 2011    Comments Off on Dan Mangan: Oh Fortune