On his third album, bearded Vancouver crooner Dan Mangan perseveres in maturing. His benevolent voice is a vehicle for songs crafted from the ground up, organically siphoning into parts both individual and whole. Sticking closely to a formulaic folk-y song structure, namely acoustic guitar plucking and mellow brush-drumming, Oh, Fortune
tenaciously experiments with denser formats, including backing orchestral instrumentation. To his devoted, this production burnish may frustrate in opposition to the usual stripped-down fashion, but as a first-time listener, I see each depository blur of a new layer of sound as only promoting, not hindering or shrouding Mangan's talent.
Getting comfortable in its initial moments, Oh, Fortunes
first track "About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All" swells with a crushing intro, rotating sluggishly until the brash noise sheds its skin, leaving behind a composed waltz. With its carousal cadence, piping up and down, Mangan's gravelly voice bleeds gasoline as it is shorn by an ebullient horn section. "How Darwinian" follows, a perpetually disengaged hymn, morose but not sad enough to make your heart stop. Built on a bed of neurotic strings and a propped up acid-wash guitar, the title hints at the evolution resplendent in his current music-making. "Post-War Blues" is unexpectedly swift. It blossoms tightly, craving a swaying chorus. Yet it never quite gets there, due to an interruption by math-rocks angular hyperactivity until it slows right back down to the verse. Mangan swoons, "Make me your fire to burn/Burn all the letters I wrote", a pleasant see-sawing poetic rhythm. These are reactions better played loud.
Yet Mangan radiates no less in his quieter moments. He is, and will probably always be, a genuinely incredible artisan of stirring slow folk songs. The only differences included are more winsome details. "If I Am Dead" plunks amid a hum of unnamed machines and crystalline whistles. Vocal delay meets us on "Daffodil", a track where the lyricism merely gets a little too corny for my tastes. ("Oh Daffodil / Oh my petunia"...I mean...who says that without giggling?) He comes into his own especially on the title track "Oh, Fortune", an elegiac composition to things larger than us, like forces, chances, the sky, open fields, closed windows tempered by a skidding bass drum. "Rows of Houses" is sleepy but animated; it belongs in a space far from homes, like a gurgling stream, room for voices to accumulate in the air. The last track, "Jeopardy", is a stream of unending questions, not in an anxious manner, but quietly meditative and introspective, shaded gently by a trumpet solo.
Each song on Dan Mangan's third effort showcases his growth, the clear weight conveyed in his songs as they are stretched by outside forces. Paradoxically enough, when you add the presence of a new supporting band (ranging in free-jazz experimentation to out and out symphonic squalls) the result is something that is entirely Mangan's.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
MP3: "Oh, Fortune"