Mangan and co. finally feel like a true team effort
by James Brotheridge
Dan Mangan + Blacksmith
Arts and Crafts
To briefly recap the progress of Dan Mangan:
The Vancouver singer-songwriter started out as just that: a solo artist, a singer with an interesting voice a register below normal, and ambitions beyond simple or traditional folk or pop-folk. His second album, 2009’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice showed as much, introducing a talented man with a backing band.
2011’s Oh Fortune was a step towards a group collaboration, something Mangan seems to treasure. While the record features many of the players he works with today, it stills maintains some straightforward folk-rock trappings, especially on key tracks like “Post-War Blues”, “Rows of Houses” or the title track.
Club Meds is the first Mangan release that feels like an honest-to-God, full-band collaboration — for better or worse — so much so that the record is credited to Dan Mangan + Blacksmith.
I shouldn’t overstate the “worse” part of the equation here, though at times the album feels like a band in the process of finding its sound — not in a larger sense, but moment to moment. There are songs, like lead single “Vessel”, where the newer, more layered approach to song construction is tight and concise. But elsewhere, the group seems to be finding its way in the midst of the song. Moments like these can veer from interesting to confusing on occasion, but they’re mostly welcome.
The record’s a departure for Mangan, and a statement of what this collection of players as a whole might become. If their progression continues, the future seems bright.
In classic hardcore fashion, Death, the new EP from Regina hardcore band Failed States, starts off with a chunk of found audio. (I tried to track its origins but Google was no help.) Also in classic hardcore fashion, they don’t dwell on it for long. In fact, they don’t ever really spend a lot of time in any one spot — the seven tracks here are dispensed quickly. They’re never speed demons, though vocalist Jeffrey M is moving pretty quick in parts of “Leeches”. Jeff’s an asset to the band, a guy who can handle the blunt shouting as well as the parts that need a nimbler tongue and spoken-word bits. The band backs him up well, bringing heavy playing without making things sludgy. Some of the subjects on the record are old hat, but then again some messages can always use reinforcing — like in the lead track, where Jeff sings, “Always stay weird. Forget all the bullshit.” /James Brotheridge
Onwards and Sideways
Joshua Radin must’ve been eager to release an album in 2015 — Onwards and Sideways, his sixth album, came out on Jan. 6, one of the first releases scheduled for the year as far as I’ve seen. Maybe the record holds a special importance for Radin (the press release talks about his coming out of a creative funk to write the album on a bed in Stockholm), but to my ears, there isn’t a whole lot that feels inspired here. Radin — who broke big after being featured on the TV show Scrubs — keeps the sweetness of his voice, the gentle sentimentality of his songwriting and folk-pop instrumentation, but pairs all of the good stuff with worn lyrical sentiments. Then again, people need to get up again after falling before they can worry about anything else; here’s hoping Radin’s accomplished that with this album, and can now move on to concentrating on greater things. /James Brotheridge