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.

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

With the short list announced coincidentally close to Canada Day, the Polaris Music Prize has been cleverly disguised as an icon of national pride. The saga of Polaris says that not only are we geographically gargantuan as a nation, but musically we’re in fine proportion to our size. It takes time to look at all the details, since we as a nation put out an obscene amount of music, but an award like Polaris gives us great cause to wear out our Canadian vinyl through the summer months. From the Besnard Lakes to Broken Social Scene and from Shad to the Sadies, the short list has once again rolled out a tight batch of competition spanning a wide array of genres. Splicing and comparing the ten albums selected for the short list this year can be a daunting task, so we at Ca Va Cool have decided to divide and conquer, to leave you more time to enjoy and celebrate not only the ten albums on the short list or the forty albums on the long list, but as many Canadian albums from the past year as you possibly can.

Broken Social Scene – All to All
Radio Radio – Tomtom
Shad – Rose Garden

Photograph by Chris Gergley

The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar)

If there’s a dark horse in the Polaris race, it may just be the Besnard Lakes. The second-time shortlist nominees are once again looking to take home the big prize. An album blending shoegaze, progressive rock, and psychedelic rock, The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night harkens back to the 1970s, drawing comparisons to bands like Fleetwood Mac and the Alan Parsons Project. Husband-and-wife team  Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas trade vocals throughout.  Goreas takes centre stage on album highlight ’Albatross’, bursting through the droning guitars, singing of a heartfelt remembrance of an age long since passed. ‘And This Is What We Call Progress’ eschews that beauty, preferring a condemnation of the darkness of the surrounding world, soundtracked by a workman-like drumbeat and some of the sweetest guitar licks heard since the days of classic rock. Their world is on fire, and the Besnard Lakes channel that intensity into 10 tracks of Polaris-worthy goodness. — Kevin Kania

The Besnard Lakes – And This Is What We Call Progress

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— , July 31, 2010    8 Comments