CD Review: Dan Mangan

Oh Fortune, the follow-up to the 2009 Polaris Prize nominee Nice, Nice, Very Nice, sees the Vancouverite Dan Mangan show definite growth. He’s dropped the stripped down songs that featured only his voice and acoustic guitar and traded it up for a full band. The move paid off in spades.

The opener, “About as Helpful as You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All,” immediately asks for your attention. A song heavy on wind and string instruments waltzes and is complimented by Mangan’s gruff voice. “How Darwinian,” an atmospheric track oozing with melancholy, and “Post-War Blues,” a lyrically sad but musically uplifting entry, follow the opener and continue the mood Mangan has set out for us.

Songs like “If I Am Dead,” with its eerie echoing whispers, “Daffodil,” with its agonizingly slow movement, and “Regarding Death and Dying” are beautifully written, haunting and captivating. Mangan’s vocals give hints to stylistic familiarities with early Joel Kroeker and Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, but stand very well on their own merit.

The title track, “Oh Fortune,” builds with tension into a chorus that swims with pop, whereas “Rows Of Houses” adds a little grit and dirt to the record. A little louder than the other tracks, it’s paired with ghostly, almost gospel-like melodies that shiver with desperation.

Regardless of all the added experimental layers, the album still comes across organic and cohesive from start to finish. This holds most true on songs like “Leaves, Trees, Forest,” a luxuriously layered arrangement, and “Starts With Them, Ends With Us,” which features a crescendo into a marvelous wind section showcasing the horns as the predominant instrument.

The album ends with “Jeopardy,” where Mangan poses numerous beautifully sung questions. “Where did I go? What is this sorrow?” Mangan croons. “What happens when all flags burn together? Is that unity? Is it meaningful to be angry?”

Oh, Fortune is an emotional struggle that rips and tears its way through what is without doubt a rewarding experience. It’s an album in which every time you listen to it you’ll discover new layers, both musically and lyrically. It provides the proof that Mangan is elevating the boundaries of defined folk music.

Needless to say, Mangan has bended and shaped an album that proves he’s worth all the buzz.

4 ½ stars out of 5

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