Review: Dan Mangan + Blacksmith – ‘Club Meds’

Dan-Mangan-Blacksmith_club medsDan Mangan + Blacksmith

Club Meds (City Slang)

6.5/10

Vancouver based troubadour Dan Mangan is no stranger to change. The progression in his music over the past five years is clear – from the folksy roots of is debut album Nice, Nice, Very Nice to the heavy hitting, rock orientated sophomore Oh, Fortune – so you’d expect the amps to be turned up to ’11’ by the time album number three rolls around. But Club Meds is not the foot stomping beast you might expect it to be. A reason for this might be found in Mangan’s restyled name, for this release he has modified it to Dan Mangan + Blacksmith, giving full credit to his long serving backing band, and this newly found egalitarian moniker is fully reflected in the overall sound.

Club Meds is a space in which all members of the band have had room to breathe and it makes for a collection of richly textured tracks, not least with album opener ‘Offred’. The track broods with humming bass and buzzing undercurrents of feedback with Mangan’s distinctively weathered vocals adding a deep south twang to the proceedings. The rising piano tones increase and build the track up to an earthy crescendo like that feels at once restrained and immediate.

The clear stand-out on Club Meds is ‘Vessel’, with its takes no prisoners drum beat and rising and falling piano refrain that push against each other in off-kilter time signatures. The tension is palpable and drives the track forward, head long into the foray of Mexican trumpets. It’s like listening to Dave Brubeck duking it out with Midlake in an Spaghetti Western saloon.

But in the midst of all the excitement it would be easy for Mangan to lose his darker side, something that has always been the genesis of his more captivating material. Any fears that this may have happened are well and truly allayed with ‘A Doll’s House/Pavlova’. The song echoes with minor chord progressions and reverb-drenched chants hovering ominously over a staccato guitar line sounding like a set piece for an indie horror flick. If you ever wanted to play chess with Death on a beach, this would be the perfect soundtrack. Club Meds is clearly an artful album and there doesn’t seem to be a single unintentional note on it, but all this considered restraint can sometimes be its downfall.

The ethereal sonic wash of ‘War Spoils’ is undoubtedly engaging but feels like, if the reins had been slacked, could have bloomed into something much bigger. The title track, knowingly schizophrenic in the way it jumps between its tightly structured verse and free-flowing chorus, could sit comfortably in the middle of 10cc’s back catalogue, but the song seems to hold back a little too much.

Club Meds sees Mangan truly collaborating with his band and this pays off an a big way as far as the impeccably constructed tracks are concerned. The problem is that this attention to detail leads to the album feeling restrained in places. You just can’t help but wonder how Club Meds would have sounded if everyone had just let go a little more.

Club Meds is out now on City Slang.

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