DAN MANGAN + BLACKSMITH
Dan Mangan + Blacksmith
Call it entering one’s thirties or taking a few years away from the road to sit and reflect. Or, perhaps, more than ever before, call it having something to say.
Club Meds is the fourth LP offering from Dan Mangan, and the first under the moniker “Dan Mangan + Blacksmith”. The new namesake is timely, as this album is indicative of a new beginning, of sorts.
“Blacksmith” is Kenton Loewen, Gordon Grdina, John Walsh (and often Jesse Zubot, JP carter and Tyson Naylor). Many of these musicians have played with Mangan for years, but there’s a reaffirmed cohesiveness or communal sensibility that merits the marquee amendment.
At times, Club Meds evokes images of subtler American-underground innovators like Blonde Redhead or Steve Reich. At other moments, it hits emotional pay-dirt reminiscent of British scene-survivors like Peter Gabriel or Radiohead.
Blacksmith brings an unmistakable character to Club Meds; a stark glassy edge that swells and sways like a roaring ocean. Through a haze of analog feedback loops and synths, the band’s performances breathe deeply and steadily like a dragon at rest.
The album itself feels like a clearing of the air. It seems fitting, as after seven relentless years of near-non-stop touring, the entire ensemble, and especially Mangan, needed a break. So they took one.
There was risk the short hiatus could have crippled the band’s mojo. Mangan’s third album, 2011’s Oh Fortune, received international acclaim, two JUNO Awards and a Polaris Music Prize listing. By many standards, it was just the time to accelerate rather than slow down.
“It was like I was obsessed with keeping the plates spinning,” Mangan says from his home in Vancouver, “The distraction was nice, but I had some work to do that didn’t involve performing. I had to think about what it takes to live out a long body of work, and why I wanted that in the first place.”
There were other projects to be undertaken. Most notably, Dan becoming a dad and scoring a feature film with bandmate Jesse Zubot (“Hector And The Search For Happiness” starring Simon Pegg).
The ensemble laboured intensely over the bed tracks with producer Colin
Stewart (Black Mountain, Ladyhawk, Yukon Blonde). Heated moments, heavy discussions and long, sweaty sessions delivered what is no doubt the most mature song-crafting to come from Mangan and his collaborators to date.
Mangan and Stewart then worked on and off for four months, meticulously adding and subtracting hundreds of layers of noise and subtext. The result is a fastidiously organized piece of broken, imperfect art.
The lyrics… It’s as if Dan’s newfound fatherhood encouraged him to sharpen his knives – like adding a child into the equation raised the stakes for an already overly-opinionated writer.
In the aptly titled Mouthpiece, which rolls along like a decade-in-the- making call-to-arms rant, Mangan stammers out, “Those who pretend to believe hardest might actually begin to / The nature of the bliss the warmth of ignorance gives in to”. This could serve as a thesis statement, but it could also pass you by in the onslaught of similarly weighted lines.
And Club Meds is full of ‘em. In Vessel, likely the album’s backbeat-iest track, we’re repeatedly reminded “It takes a village to raise a fool”. In XVI, an ode to Louis and Marie Antoinette as they gaze down upon Occupy Wall St campers, we get a banker’s perspective on the crisis: “See, if you hate the Man, the Man hates you too”.
As for the title, Mangan includes the following missive in the album’s liner notes:
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.
It’s okay, though. We’re all just particles.
Having spent nearly two decades creating uniquely affecting music defined by deep personal sentiment and attracting listeners across musical genres, Hayden now signs to Arts & Crafts for the release of his seventh full-‐length record, Us Alone.
Since his emergence from Toronto’s burgeoning alternative scene with 1995’s now iconic Everything I Long For, Hayden has intrigued, both for his highly introspective personality and musical independence -‐ performing most instruments on his records and almost always engineering, mixing, and producing as well as self-‐releasing on his own label, Hardwood Records.
Those skills and tendencies are again showcased on Us Alone, a sonically rich, beautifully textured return to form. Lyrically, Hayden also continues his strength in crafting stories that will range from the highly autobiographical (“Almost Everything”) to strangely unsettling (“Just Give Me A Name”), and goes as far as leaving specific direction of what to do with his body when he dies (“Instructions”).
“There isn’t a particular recording story around this album,” Hayden explains. “I didn’t go record in a Norwegian Village or at the bottom of a shrimp vessel. I walked upstairs where every instrument has a microphone and hit record. And, as usual, the songs came together over a long period of time.
“I was moving away from so many records now (including some of my past work) where every song features an overwhelming number of instruments; it’s often hard to replicate things like that live. I wanted the sound of five people walking into a room and playing a full set. With the exception of some stellar help from friends on a song or two, those five people were mostly just me…”
Us Alone is a subtle, emotional and sonically warm journey written and performed by one of Canada’s most consistent artists. A welcome addition to a brilliant career.
From the unfiltered inner monologue of Calgary’s Matthew Swann, Astral Swans is the sound of time spent next to the radiator in a cold apartment. Swann’s observations are stark and personal, bringing to mind images of the American underground’s various eras. Equally inspired by 60′s folk, no wave, and 90′s sludge, Astral Swans is at once: haunting, sincere, psychedelic, and strange – picture Nick Drake, Vashti Bunyan, Syd Barrett, and Sibyelle Baier, interpreted via Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, Eric’s Trip, and Chad Vangaalen (who produced Swann’s previous project, Extra Happy Ghost!!!) He lacks the usual pretense of the “singer/songwriter” and one gets the feeling that his cleverness is almost accidental; it’s just what happened.
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“He’s brilliant at merging lazy bedroom pop with experimental dissonance” // NOW MAGAZINE
“Deftly composed, razor-sharp hook wrapped in ectoplasmic ecstasy — a ghastly beautiful exhumation of cryptic poetics and dirge-laden, yet comforting singsong.” // BEATROUTE
“A resounding success.” // EXCLAIM!
“I left the song looping for hours.” // HEROHILL
“Phantom hymns.. Take a minute to get lost in the ether — I’ll meet you on the astral plane.” // WEIRD CANADA
“I included Extra Happy Ghost!!! on my ballot for the Polaris Music Prize, so obviously I’m intrigued by his latest, more electronic-leaning project.” // CHIPPED HIP
“Introspective late 60s folk à la Nick Drake filtered through an avant-garde 90s lens.” // NOW MAGAZINE
“Astral Swans might be God, might be Buddha or Vishnu. Might be a liar with a poet’s notebook, or a preacher with a Xanax” // SAID THE GRAMOPHONE
“Old depressed guy ” // CALGARY HERALD