club-meds1[xrr rating=3.5/5]Vancouver’s Dan Mangan moves on from his folk festival singer-songwriter roots on Club Meds, his latest album for Arts and Crafts. The last seven years of his career culminated in the critical acclaim of 2011’s Oh Fortune, but this time he puts down the acoustic guitar and folk-rock for something more intense and complicated. Blacksmith primarily consists of musicians who have regularly worked with Mangan, but this band exposes their ankles and explores the depth of their navels.

Opening track “Offered” introduces the new direction in a heavy way. It begins with subtle electronic sampling followed by a drum rhythm that remains steady for the duration of the track. A meandering synth and light-hearted guitar noodling are contrasted with a soaring distorted drone of feedback. It’s all very uncomfortable, but it fits nicely with Mangan’s uncomplicated vocal style. On previous records, his cryptic songwriting seemed overwrought for a folk musician, but here it finds a welcome home in the grey and smoky backdrop of art-rock.

“Vessel” sees him stepping even further afield, lifting his vocals out of his usual lazy-lipped croon. It evokes memories of Radiohead’s OK Computer or the slow burn, dreamy melodies of Elbow, but those ideas are dispelled on “Mouthpiece.” The straight-ahead boxcar rhythm pounds through a melancholy growl of harmonies and fast strumming that carries a sincere urgency. It may be the first time the album really hits its stride.

If there’s a theme, it’s contrast. Elements of every track seem to work against each other, with upbeat, hopeful vocals playing against a droning instrumental despair. When vocals cry out in pain as on “Kitsch,” they’re played off the loop of an almost optimistic harp-like guitar lick.

“Robots,” the somewhat gimmicky sing-along anthem, is the kind of track most people would associate with Mangan. He distances himself from that legacy with an album full of emotionally complicated and reflective songs. Club Meds rarely affords you a reprieve of light-hearted breathing space, which comes eventually in the form of “Pretty Good Joke.” But the album closes with the descending crescendo of whining horns that makes up “New Skies,” which suggests Radiohead’s “Exit Music for a Film.” There is nothing catchy about Club Meds — it’s all about engagement, more conversation than small talk. But it’s all well worth your time, inviting repeated listening, and in fact requiring it. This is serious music by serious musicians who put intense effort into creating an atmosphere. There’s a time for records that make you want to sing along, and time for deeper listening experiences, and that time is now for Dan Mangan + Blacksmith.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

The 1975: A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships

So what do you expect from The 1975? …