Dan Mangan + Blacksmith “Club Meds” (2015 Arts & Crafts Records) 

Dan Mangan ushered in 2015 with the release of his fourth full length album, ‘Club Meds’, alongside a new group of musicians under the name  ‘Dan Mangan+ Blacksmiths’. Mangan states that the new name encompasses the spirit of the project’s longstanding ensemble members joining the band from Vancouver’s experimental music community. After a two year hiatus, Mangan + Blacksmith with West Coast indie producer Colin Stewart, have released an album that fuses Mangan’s familiar acoustic songwriting and beautifully crafted lyrics with a fresh new sound derived from the band members’ eclectic and diverse musical backgrounds. 

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Stand out tracks:

“Offered”, the opening track to the album, starts with a slow and layered analog loop/beat that leads to the band coming in with a progression and sound that sets the familiar melancholic “Mangan-esque” tone for the album. Drums and bass keep the progression steady, while the guitars and synths explore more fluid moving riffs, displaying guitarist Gordon Grdina’sinfluences and prowess, which features throughout the rest of the album. The song breaks down into a beautiful guitar duet of sorts with Grdina and Mangan taking the reigns until the bass and drums come in leading to what feels like an emotionally charged jam session right to the end. Mangan’s vocals are intentionally layered alongside the rest of the band, taking on an instrument-like tone within the song and not necessarily being the feature of the song itself. Nonetheless, Mangan’s unmistakable voice tends to breakthrough the mix in piercing fashion with melodies that soar perfectly on top of the underlying arrangement, and lends itself to poignant and weighty lyrics that ask questions of the heart–and almost seem to question his existential purpose altogether. 

 

“Vessel”– the first single off of ‘Club Meds’ is a catchy track, opening with a playful piano riff, which then paves the way for the band to explore rhythmically driven layers. These all compliment each other beautifully, coming together in an upbeat and sure to please hit. Mangan’s vocals again rise above everything that is going on within the mix, to bring it all together despite what seems like chaos within the instrumentation. As the piano continues the opening riff, the guitars join in through the verse as the bass and drums hold it all together. The chorus picks things up, and the guitar dives into a 16th note hook that grabs, pulls, and drives you forward into a crescendo of organized chaos featuring brass and multiple layers of call and answer vocals. 

Mouthpiece” – a double time, war-cry like anthem screaming for something more, continues to display a side of Mangan’s songwriting that is visceral in nature while again, questioning the existential reasoning for day to day life. All the while, the rhythm section charges through the song from nearly beginning to end with the steady and unstoppable pace of a steam engine. This allows Grdina’s Jazz-inspired riffs and bell-like tones to fill the space left by the haunting and gritty sound of Mangan’s voice, bellowing out the melody. Backed by a choir of his own layered vocals, the lyrics speak with the weight of such hard hitting lines as: “those who pretend to believe might actually begin to / the nature of the bliss the warmth of ignorance gives in to”. 

 In the song XVI” things slow down a bit, while Mangan explores ideas related to the occupy movement, through the eyes of a banker and inspired by Louis and Marie Antoinette. 

War Spoils features a reverb saturated melody and small brass section, backed by long open ended loops and Sigur róslike guitar feedback, seemingly speaking to the futility of it all. This leads directly into Forgetery, which at first listen sounds like a hopeful response to the topics touched on previously, only to reveal itself as a response of ignorant bliss and capitulation. 

 The title track “Club Meds” continues the emerging theme of ignorance is blissand defeatism, by painting a picture of us living in a cycle of denial and in a self-induced comatose state in order to maintain the status quo. The instrumentation and arrangement echoes this theme with an almost lazy sound and carnivalesque feel to it, all reminiscent of a better time long since past. 

The album finishes with New Skies”, a harrowing track despite the now familiar chaos, made up with the arrangement of trumpets and guitars screaming out at times with an unintelligible and nonsensical duality, yet all coming together in perfect harmony with a sense of hope for the future. Mangan pulls it all together through the pained, yet hope-filled lyrics we hear, “Gone is the gray / the end of the thunder / oh the end of the hunger / hands that knew only need burst at the seams / overflowing / a new royal we”.

Club Meds has again proven Mangan as one of Canada’s most brilliantly talented lyricists and song writers. He is willing to take risks and explore new sounds/ideas while staying true to himself and the themes he so beautifully writes about. Mangan’s own words sums up the entire concept of ‘Club Meds’ beautifully: 

Sedation is massive. It surrounds us like a thick wet blanket. To be numb is to allow others to control your reality. It makes some people feel better, to know that you suffer also, that their numbness is shared like a virus. But unity in numbness is a façade, and not nearly as magical as a unity born of awakeness

CLUB MEDS is about sedation. Sedation can be chemical, but not exclusively so. There is a great vacation from actuality going on. Maybe there always has been. It seems like everybody else is already at the party and that life is somehow easier or more fun under the fog. But instead, it only makes people feel more alone, more dangerous, more desperate  – Dan Mangan 

 Be sure to check out what will definitely prove to be one of the best albums of 2015, and don’t miss any opportunity to see Dan Mangan + Blacksmith live this year.

 CRT. 

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