Review Summary: In which Dan Mangan perfects his unique craft and rises above his contemporaries.
Expectations can be quite a bother, and I expect that Vancouver based singer/songwriter Dan Mangan knows this better than most. His second LP, 2009’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice
flew a little under the radar, but the majority of those in the know were blown away by the maturity and songwriting ability of the young musician. The record saw him express his emotions in a poignant and effective manner, and it connected with many 20-somethings on a deep level. He drew comparisons to Damien Rice, and for good reason; his relatable-yet-personal lyrics, mastery of the acoustic guitar, and excellent song compositions planted him in the realm of such modern-day folk giants.
Well it’s now two years later and it seems that Dan Mangan is only improving in all aspects of his music. Oh Fortune
is the sound of a man truly coming into his own and perfecting his craft. The same positive things that could be said about his previous album are still applicable here: his vocals are delightfully warm and emotive and his lyrics are incredibly insightful and at times brilliant. What makes this album stand above its predecessor though is the vastly improved orchestration that Mangan sprinkles throughout the record. This isn’t to say that his previous work was lacking in that department, however, Nice, Nice, Very Nice
was, in most ways, a standard folk album. He employed a string section when necessary and even mixed in some female vocals to keep things interesting, but the majority of the record was based on the tried and true methods of contemporary folk music. There’s nothing wrong with an album full of simple chord progressions played enthusiastically on an acoustic guitar accompanied by soulful lyrics, but there exists a danger of becoming stagnant and uninteresting when a singer/songwriter sticks to that formula unwaveringly, album after album. Dan Mangan is apparently quite aware of this, as the instrumentation on Oh Fortune
varies greatly. The climax of ‘Starts With Them, Ends With Us’ immediately comes to mind. After laying the decidedly folky groundwork for the first two or so minutes, the song eventually explodes into a monstrous, beautiful tapestry of sounds, including a blaring horn section and some soaring strings. The result is enough to give the listener goosebumps, and the final product ends up being perhaps the best cut from this impressive album.
Other highlights include the upbeat ‘Post-War Blues,’ in which Mangan approaches anthem territory when he begins by singing "let’s start a war for the kids / a purpose for which to unite
", the wonderful album closer ‘Jeopardy’ which sees him sings lyrics that any young man unsure of his direction in life, and experiencing great pain as a result, would relate to in an instant, and ‘Daffodil’ which is very different compared to the rest of the album. Mangan (or rather, the producer) distorts the vocals on this track to give it that warbled, vintage-radio sound. Being placed pretty much directly in the centre of the album, the variation in the vocals (and general sound of the music) on that track serves as yet another failsafe against his music becoming stagnant or cliché within his genre.
He need not worry though, for Dan Mangan has successfully carved himself a niche in our modern musical culture, one that can only be inhabited successfully by an elite few. Oh Fortune
is an album for the disillusioned but passionate youth of today, filled with generation defining lyrics and gorgeous music. It’s been at least four years in the works, but Mangan may have finally created the true classic that we all knew was within his grasp after his magnificent second album.