Album Review: Dan Mangan – Oh Fortune

Dan ManganOh Fortune, the third album by Vancouver artist Dan Mangan, is an artistically mature, sonically detailed and generally beautiful collection of music.

His first studio album, Postcards and Daydreaming (2007), showed obvious potential, despite the fairly generic acoustic-folk sound. With his 2009 release Nice, Nice, Very Nice, Mangan began expanding his radius of creativity, introducing a more varied style to his songwriting and more expression to his lyrics. It gained critical acclaim, received heavy rotation on Canadian radio, and was shortlisted for last year’s Polaris Prize. Though it may be lacking in infectious sing-alongs like the 2009 single “Robots,” Oh Fortune is Dan Mangan’s most ambitious and inspired album to date.

The opening track, “About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All,” immediately demonstrates the evolution of Mangan’s style since Nice, Nice, Very Nice. Beginning with white noise, giving way to strings and upright bass, and then finally woodwinds, brass and guitars, the song is representative of the album’s eclectic nature–the liner notes list 17 different musical contributors in total.

Lyrically, Oh Fortune shares the previous album’s introspective themes. But to make a subtle distinction, where Nice, Nice, Very Nice was sad, Oh Fortune is more melancholy. Though sometimes cryptic, the lyrics are characteristically eloquent and potent. Mangan’s distinctive gravelly voice cuts through densely layered mix, as expressive as it has ever been.

The album’s songs cover a range of styles, from the haunting group harmony vocals on ‘Regarding Death And Dying’ to the upbeat and energetic ‘Post-War Blues’ and the contemplative ‘Jeopardy,’ a song about the difficulties of constantly being on tour, its lyrics composed entirely of questions. And Mangan’s touring schedule has indeed been grueling, without so much as a break to record the album: as the notes say, it was “recorded slowly between tours throughout the winter of 2010 and the spring of 2011 in Vancouver, BC, Canada.”

Oh Fortune’s most distinct quality is its diverse and abundant combination of sounds and instruments. Expertly arranged, they couple with Mangan’s thoughtful lyrics to deliver a cohesive, mature and outstanding record that defies categorization. Oh Fortune is Dan Mangan’s strongest album yet, showcasing his extraordinary growth as a songwriter. And if past patterns are any indication, it is a sign of even greater things to come.

Dan Mangan will be performing in London, Ontario on October 26 at Aeolian Hall. 

Dan Mangan performing “Oh Fortune” for CBC Radio 3

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