Review Summary: Exactly that.
“I can hear the eyebrows raise when I start singing”, whispers British Columbian singer-songwriter Dan Mangan. He knows exactly why, too, as he continues: “Because the songs I sing are all about myself.” Certainly, Mangan is the exact kind of singer-songwriter that can lure your intrigue simply with how honest and open his words can be. On his second record, Nice, Nice, Very Nice
, he will keep that initial interest and expand it across an entire record of confessions, musings and tales directly from the heart. There’s a very good chance that you’ll let him, too. His charm and his brilliantly effective way with words stands nowhere near the middle of the road – he’s too busy trying to hitchhike to a better place from the ditch.
Nice, Nice, Very Nice
begins with the raw, emotive “Road Regrets”. Based around a simple chord progression, Mangan builds the song up from the ground into a full-speed-ahead affair that displays both his versatile and powerful voice and his ear for strong arrangements – two of the major factors that make Nice
such an enjoyable record to begin with. Both, in turn, become more and more apparent throughout listening to the album. Of the former, the countrified “Sold” in particular highlights some vintage harmonies, “The Indie Queens Are Waiting” does cutesy boy-girl vocals and single “Robots” brings the choir together for a strangely gospel-like finale. As for the latter, “You Silly Git” works wonders with its quaint but stirring strings, while “Tina’s Glorious Comeback” (interestingly, about his love/hate relationship with Vancouver) bops along with double-hit percussion and a very tidy electric guitar solo.
It’s perhaps the most likable thing about Nice, Nice, Very Nice
in the fact that nothing feels out of place or ill-constructed. It all comes together in a beautiful amalgamation of Mangan’s ideas that pave a clear path for perhaps what is the finest trait of his work: his wonderful lyrics. Each song deals with a different aspect of Mangan’s view of the world, his endless imagination and his interactions with the people and places around him. “You Silly Git” sees him write about homesickness (“She gives me quarters for the phone/And every time I feel alone, I go broke”) and the wisdom of his mother (“She says the point of this is not to date the future/So just focus on the task at hand”). “Fair Verona”, another album highlight, is his take on some of the key underlying themes of Romeo & Juliet: “Up the stairs, there’s a pair/who like to be made sure/That they were everything they are/For they are sadly mistaken”. Despite his lyrical claims of “You can read me like a book”, there’s a lot going on with Mangan’s words that will often require intricate, repeated listens.
Perhaps the greatest instance of where it all works perfectly on the record is the song “Basket”. Excluding the glorious swell of strings near the song’s conclusion, this is all Mangan: his simple yet masterful guitar picking, his fragile croon reaching the heights of its emotions and the lyrics, which deal with growing old and the acceptance of fate, at their sharpest and most openly touching.
So I'll brace myself against the wall and hope to God that I don't fall
My bones are worn, my hip won't hold
I used to be so young, how did I get so old?
Won't you take my cane and hold my hand
You're holding onto all I have
Just a basket full of memories
And I am losing more each day it seems
But if I can make it to the street
I'll steal a car, or a bike
Whatever there is to steal
And it might get cold
I just don't care
I'm going 'til I'm getting there
Beautiful in its execution, “Basket” is Mangan’s finest work and easily the one song on here that is an essential listen.
Musically, we find ourselves in a time where the amount of excessive layering on next to every major mainstream release arguably detracts further from the music itself than ever before. It is for this very reason that Nice, Nice, Very Nice
is such a relief and a surprise – it’s just a man, his music and his life in his own words. Heart-warming, powerful and a consistently engaging, enjoyable record, Nice, Nice, Very Nice
is nothing short of exceptional.