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Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

How Darwinian

Review of Dan Mangan’s Oh Fortune

Photo By Jonathan TaggartJonathan TaggartAs one of the most social media-savvy musicians in the country, it’s not unreasonable to say that Dan Mangan reads his own press and so he’s probably seen the phrases “everyman”, “coffee shop”, “roots-rock” and variants thereof in regards to his breakout 2009 record Nice, Nice, Very Nice many, many times. And while these descriptors were usually meant in most complimentary ways – one does’t make the Polaris shortlist on the back of negative press – his just-released follow-up Oh Fortune gives you the impression that he didn’t take those writeups as incentive to stay the course.

From the very first heavily-reverbed piano chords which open leadoff track “About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All” before giving way to strings, it’s clear that this record is built on a different game plan than its predecessor. Throughout, there’s plenty of elegantly orchestrated horns and woodwinds, but also feedbacking, layered, wall-of-noise guitars – often all side-by-side or on top of one another – and if that sounds like the complete opposite of what you’d have expected a Dan Mangan record to sound like, well I suspect that’s the point. This is not a record that can be pigeonholed as the work of a singer-songwriter or folkie; it’s brimming with full-on pop ambition and if Mangan had kept such lofty musical aspirations in check before, he’s certainly enjoying the artistic freedom that success engenders now.

But for all of that, as soon as the vocals come in it’s unmistakably a Dan Mangan record. Not having the most elastic voice becomes an pro rather than a con as it remains warm and comforting like a woollen blanket, delivering poignant and poetic lyrics that; another Mangan trademark still intact, if perhaps darker in tone this time out. And it’s Mangan’s voice and the words it carries that act as a sturdy, reliable centre amidst the swirling sonic proceedings; it’s as if between Very Nice and Fortune, Mangan was transplanted from the setting of a comfortable stool in his local into… well, it’s hard to say, exactly. The atmosphere of Fortune is consistent but difficult to pin down, also certainly part of the overarching strategy to head off preconceptions and expectations and forces the listener to consider the record on its own merits rather than what they figured a new Dan Mangan record would sound like.

It’s no small thing to shift gears or change lanes immediately after a breakthrough record; the temptation to stick to what worked – at least for the follow-up – must be immense, particularly when what worked was a time-tested, meat-and-potatoes sort of approach. So Mangan should be praised for going as conceptually far afield as he has on Oh Fortune without abandoning his core strengths and lauded for making it work so well. If it wasn’t clear from any of the above, Oh Fortune is an excellent record, expansive in scope yet efficiently delivered and both musically and lyrically rich. No, there’s nothing as immediate as “Robots” but in lieu of that degree of immediacy, you get songs that continue to reveal themselves over repeated listens. Oh Fortune confirms Mangan as one of this country’s best new songwriters and, as a bonus, forces those who’d seek to dismiss him as too conventional to find a new line of criticism. Maybe that he’s too tall. Because he’s pretty tall.

Southern Souls, The Vancouver Sun, The Winnipeg Free Press and Exclaim have interviews with Mangan and he chats with Rolling Stone about his just-released new video; there’s also three four videos from a full-album performance Mangan gave at the CBC presently online, with more to come. His Fall tour brings him to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on October 28.

MP3: Dan Mangan – “Oh Fortune”
Video: Dan Mangan – “Rows Of Houses”
Video: Dan Mangan – “About as Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All” (live at CBC)
Video: Dan Mangan – “Rows Of Houses” (live at CBC)
Video: Dan Mangan – “Post-War Blues” (live at CBC)
Video: Dan Mangan – “Oh Fortune” (live at CBC)
Stream: Dan Mangan / Oh Fortune

Also out this week is Ohbijou’s Metal Meets. Exclaim and Toro talk to bandleader Casey Mecija about making the new record. They play a release show at Trinity-St. Paul’s on September 30.

Boasting a similar album title and gracing this month’s Exclaim cover is Feist; Pitchfork also has an interview. Metals is out October 4 and she plays Massey Hall on December 1. Update: And now the album is available to stream if you sign up for her mailing list. Preview the album AND get emails from Leslie!

Stream: Feist / Metals

Canadian Interviews is playing host to a tour diary from Bruce Peninsula. Open Flames is out October 4 but streamable now at Exclaim – they also have an interview and review – and they play an in-store at Soundscapes that evening, then a proper show at Lee’s Palace on October 27.

Stream: Bruce Peninsula / Open Flames

Their record release show for Tosta Mista safely in the books, Hooded Fang have announced they’ll play a free show at the Sanderson Branch of the Toronto Public Library (Bathurst and Dundas West) on October 1 at 2PM. They’ve also put out a new animated video.

MP3: Hooded Fang – “Den Of Love”
Video: Hooded Fang – “Brahma”

Dev Hynes’ Blood Orange has been announced as support on the upcoming tour for CANT, the solo project from Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear, as well as being part of his band, all of which means that he’ll be at The Garrison on October 21. And to mark it, a new MP3 from Coastal Grooves is available to grab courtesy of Stereogum.

MP3: Blood Orange – “Champagne Coast”

J Mascis will be in town on November 4 as part of the Sleepwalk Guitar Festival taking place at The Great Hall all that weekend and ex-Television guitarist Richard Lloyd leads off the Saturday night bill followed by The Sadies. And if you were wondering just how “ex” Lloyd was with respect to Tom Verlaine and Television, this exchange documented at The Daily Swarm seems to indicate that bridges are pretty well burned. Tickets for each evening show are $25, all-day and weekend passes also available.

MP3: J Mascis – “Is It Done”
MP3: The Sadies – “Another Year Again”

English songwriting legend Ray Davies has made a date at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre for November 25 in support of last year’s See My Friends though it’s unlikely any of his big-name collaborators will be joining him for these shows. Tickets are $49.50 and $69.50 plus fees.

Video: The Kinks – “Waterloo Sunset” (live)

Young Galaxy have been added to the Austra show at The Phoenix on December 1, as well as the rest that tour. They’ve also released a new video from Shapeshifting, an animated sequel to the clip for “We have Everything”.

MP3: Young Galaxy – “Peripheral Visionaries”
Video: Young Galaxy – “Peripheral Visionaries”

The War On Drugs are coming back to town, making a date for December 9 at The Horseshoe; tickets $13.50 in advance. The Washington Post and DCist have interviews and NPR a World Cafe session.

MP3: The War On Drugs – “Come To The City”

Tokyo Police Club, Born Ruffians and Said The Whale appear to be a winning combination as a second show has been added at The Phoenix for December 9, the one for the night before presumably just about sold out. Tickets are again $25 in advance.

MP3: Tokyo Police Club – “Party In The USA”
MP3: Born Ruffians – “Sole Brother”
MP3: Said The Whale – “Camilo (The Magician)”

Ryan Adams’ first show back in Toronto since Summer 2007 – he’s retired and come back out of retirement in the interim – will take place on December 10 at The Winter Garden Theatre; tickets are $45 plus fees, fan presale goes Thursday at 10AM and general onsale Friday, same time. His new record Ashes & Fire is out October 11; Exclaim takes a look back over his prolific career.

Video: Ryan Adams – “New York, New York”

Putting lie to my post in July when they announced it, The Radio Dept. have cancelled their entire Fall tour, which was to include a November 17 show at The Mod Club, “due to family related matters”. They hope to pick up again in 2012, perhaps even with some new material to share. Yeah, right.

Salon, Spinner, The Atlantic, Billboard, Paste, JAM, and aux.tv talk to Jeff Tweedy of Wilco while The Atlanta Journal-Constitution talks to Nels Cline and The Line Of Best Fit to Glenn Kotche. NYC Taper has a recording of their second of two Central Park shows available to download and CBC’s Q has a video studio session with the band.

Spinner talks to Ben Gibbard about the new Death Cab For Cutie video from Codes And Keys.

Video: Death Cab For Cutie – “Stay Young Go Dancing”

Filter, The National Post and NOW have features on Girls.

Spinner talks to The Drums, in town on October 1 with an in-store at Sonic Boom at 7PM and a show at The Mod Club a little later that evening.

By : Frank Yang at 8:36 am
Category: General

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

RSS Feed for this post4 Responses.
  1. Troll says:

    Man, I hate trolling, but I just need to get this out there. That new Dan Mangan album has one of the ugliest covers I’ve seen in years. Arts & Crafts have really outdone themselves. Can they fire their art director and hire me instead?

  2. Frank Yang says:

    this is me not disagreeing with you. should they just contact you at your troll.com address?

  3. Troll says:

    I troll because I love (well, not necessarily Dan Mangan, haven’t heard the record yet, but I have friends who work for A&C or are on the label). Eeek.

  4. Frank Yang says:

    now that I think of it, A&C doesn’t have an especially good track record for album art. Maybe the “Gallery” part of their store name is meant ironically?