Review Summary: bring fortune to spare
If his first two records were any hint, Canadian folk maestro Dan Mangan was always on the cusp of perfection. 2009’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice
egged on that coming of age right to the cliff’s edge with songwriting gems ‘Road Regrets’ and ‘Fair Verona’; Mangan’s mouth like a dripping faucet over a cup, afflicting the surface tension of his own imagination’s limits. Yes, there would always come a point in which the Vancouverite’s broken nonchalance would no longer be appeased simply by minimal arrangements -- Oh Fortune
was destined to have Mangan spill out of his comfort zone. And being a man who has always found a way to make uncomfortable sound comfy-as-all-out, you can rest assured it won't take a lot of Mangan’s classic charisma to convince the public he’s gone through his proverbial rite of passage.
Whereas in the past Mangan managed to win affection by writing words that seemed honest and singing them like he was deeply afflicted, Oh Fortune
is the first of Mangan’s works to not depend entirely
on his charm. While his gruff, stuttering voice still dominates songs detailing the expected combinations of death, narcissism and irony, these themes are joined by a wealth of wacky arrangements and provocative dynamics. Assisted by elaborate string pieces, rapid speed-picking guitar solos, jazzy drums, gang vocals and more trumpets than you have fingers, Dan’s by-now familiar folk skeletons were all dressed up in intricate fashion before Oh Fortune
hit the presses.
Perhaps the most impressive part about this bold foray into new territory is the fact that it doesn’t feel overblown or unnatural for an artist so historically tame (in a production sense, that is). The anthemic, pounding ‘Post-War Blues’ hinges on its full-band arrangement and sprints with enough energy to put Red Bull out of business, but underneath all the glamour, it’s the same cutesy, cynical folk we’ve come to expect from Mangan. You can add flutes and gang vocals to kitschy 3/4 instrumentals, but when Dan humbly bleats “I almost forgot it... but then I remembered
” on opener ‘About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All’, you realise no amount of sheen could rob Oh Fortune
of its sincerity. Similarly, ‘How Darwinian’ shifts between sparse, ambient choruses and cluttered, dense verses that wouldn’t sound out of place on a post-rock track but Mangan’s tired refrain of “people don’t know what they want, they just know they really want it - I should know better by now
” keeps the listener reminded just who they’re listening to the entire time. And that’s really the biggest compliment an artist can get when they shoot for the stars after a few years milling around the earth: not only did you push the envelope creatively and create something worth admiring, you stayed true to yourself and made sure the whole shebang had your fingerprints all over it.