Release Date: Jan 13, 2015
Record label: Arts & Crafts
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
New year, new start. Informed by December’s indulgences, reflections are made and answers sought, the promises we make to ourselves glimmering like tiny lights in the January gloaming. Dan Mangan is certainly taking the initiative; 2015 has barely begun and already we have Club Meds, his exquisitely-titled - and frequently just flat-out exquisite - fourth record.
With its expansive sonic palette and nervy, politically, and socially charged disposition, the fourth outing from the Juno Award-winning singer/songwriter, Club Meds, feels more like square one for the shape-shifting Vancouverite. Mangan illuminates the shift in tone by issuing the album under a new moniker that better reflects the weight being carried by his backing band, the aptly named Blacksmith, who dutifully hammer and shape each song into submission, just as their collective nom de plume would suggest. Front-loaded with two of its most impressive set pieces, the expansive, slow-building "Offred" and the powerful and provocative first single, "Vessel" ("It takes a village to raise a fool"), the 11-track set feels like a single organism, due in large part to the jettisoning of any kind of acoustic/voice traditional singer/songwriter structure and an overall intensity of delivery that evokes stadium-era Peter Gabriel.
With each new album, Dan Mangan pushes himself further from his roots as a sensitive, heart-on-sleeve acoustic singer-songwriter, and Club Meds continues the trend. This record posits Mangan as a bandleader rather than a solo act, since it's co-credited to his group Blacksmith, and it downplays troubadour-like folksiness in favour of cryptic darkness. Although Mangan is still a balladeer at heart, his mellow songs now come swaddled in blankets of reverb and fleshed out by inventive full-band arrangements that draw on art-rock, worldbeat and jazz.
A star of sorts in his native Canada, Dan Mangan has yet to make the same impact in Britain, his previous albums lacking a real identity. His fourth set, though, and his first with a full band, indicates that Mangan has finally found his niche as a wonderfully off-kilter singer-songwriter. Harmonious one minute, turbulent the next, Club Meds is an album rich in sounds and moods.
Club Meds refers to our fondness for escaping reality through self-medication, yet there’s little that’s sedate about Canadian songwriter Dan Mangan’s fourth album. It is, however, lyrically engaging and musically adventurous, with the arrangements here more ambitious than on Club Meds’ predecessor, Oh Fortune. Some of the winding guitar lines, such as those on A Doll’s House Pavlovia, are reminiscent of post-OK Computer Radiohead, whereas on War Spoils Mangan’s voice descends to the bleak environs frequented by Interpol’s Paul Banks.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Dan Mangan's work to date has given his fans and listeners plenty to explore and with Club Meds, his fourth album and the first to be credited to Dan Mangan + Blacksmith, he serves up another set of songs that demand and reward your attention. Blacksmith, in case your were wondering, isn't some edgy up and coming producer that Mangan has brought on board.
Vancouver’s Dan Mangan is best known in his home country as a talented singer-songwriter with an occasionally gravelly and always expressive voice. In 2012, he won two JUNO Awards — including New Artist of the Year — for his album Oh Fortune. But despite the accolades and acclaim up north, he hasn’t made the same splash in the US. Chalk it up to poor marketing or bad luck, because songs like “Sold” and “Robots” off 2009’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice, along with Fortune opener “About as Helpful as You Can Be Without Being Any Help at All”, could’ve had substantial folk rock success stateside.
Through roping in his touring pals officially this time around (as ‘Blacksmith’), with ‘Club Meds’, Canadian troubadour Dan Mangan has produced an expansive and assured record. Strings, brass and even woodwind make an appearance alongside Mangan’s piano and – of course – acoustic guitar, and (mostly) combine with disconcerting ease; musically, this is one dark album. It’s miserable from the outset; “I give in,” Mangan sighs on stormy opener, ‘Offred’.
On his fourth and most ambitious album, Dan Mangan has shifted directions, and the addition of Blacksmith to the name makes the intentionality of this shift apparent from the start. While he has always played with a band, many of whom are now a part of Blacksmith, their presence is increasingly felt on this album. Through building textures and creating depth, Mangan’s songs take on a dreamlike feel that implies the distance and numbness linked to sedation.
Usually when a solo singer/songwriter adds a band to his or her project, things grow louder and more energetic. The opposite is true with Dan Mangan and his ensemble, Blacksmith, a group of experimental Vancouver musicians - Kenton Loewen, John Walsh, Gordon Grdina, Jesse Zubot, Tyson Naylor and JP Carter - who've given Mangan a fresh sonic palette from which to build. Instead of his driving, impassioned folk rock of yore, Mangan offers up something much more ambiguous and ambient.