Dan Mangan + Blacksmith
Dan Mangan, the Canadian, multi-instrumentalist and singer songwriter returns with his fourth album. The first album to be released under the Dan Mangan + Blacksmith moniker, Club Meds is a departure from his standard singer songwriter template.
This is an experimental album, showing an artist comfortable enough with his music to take risks. The music builds up textures, only to strip them right down to the basics. The synth driven songs loop in on themselves, becoming almost atonal at times. A variety of instruments are used to great effect. In the hands of less skilled musicians, this could have been a recipe for disaster. But Dan Mangan + Blacksmith manage to pull it off successfully, producing an album that’s sombre, often touching and even beautiful.
Despite the variety, it never feels disparate. It’s not that the sum is greater than its parts. Any of the songs on the album hold up well as individual pieces, but together they feel like a cohesive piece of work, slotting together in a way that accentuates their individual strength. In the age of individual tracks, this is still very much an album.
A certain maturity rings throughout Club Meds. Refreshingly, this is an album not afraid to show intelligence and that especially shines through in the lyrics. While socially aware, they tend towards the introspective, never falling into polemic. It’s sombre, yet oxymoronically uplifting at the same time. Club Meds is a downbeat album with themes of isolation and emptiness recurring throughout. Yet the skilful and thoughtful manner in which these themes are handled stops it from ever feeling maudlin.
Mangan’s vocals bring out these strengths. His singing is confident and careful, never going further then what is needed. While low key, the emotion in his voice comes through frequently in the songs, reinforcing them.
Admittedly, this isn’t going to be an album to the taste of everyone. It isn’t disposable, not the kind of album you can listen to casually. It takes a certain commitment and even seriousness in its listening in order to fully appreciate what it has to offer. But for those willing to put in the time, it more than justifies the effort.
Release: 12th January 2015, City Slang