With such a healthy reputation and fan-base, Dan Mangan’s new record is all about subverting what people have come to expect from him. Searching his own concerns while exploring the depths of his sonic possibilities, Mangan really makes you think in his music. Though it occasionally breaks away from melodic writing, this is one Mangan record you won’t forget.
In the unnerving electronic bass of “Lynchpin” Mangan suggests a lack of control, as he builds a spiralling feeling in his arrangements. The song itself breaks between these ethereal flights and sparse bridges to translate that things are changing and may never be the same again. Though it is stranger to hear Mangan shift back to a more folk-driven sound on “Peaks & Valleys” all the off-beat drumming and haunting synth tones creep through strangely. With this uncertain feeling taking hold of the song, Mangan pushes listeners expectations of where his kind of writing can go. As Mangan centres around his own story on “Just Fear,” there’s a much more direct to his writing, and one that feels comforting, while hinting at hard times ahead.
Mangan’s since of existential confusion is palpable throughout this album, which makes so many tracks ooze a feeling of helplessness no matter how chipper the rest of the arrangements are. “Lay Low” itself is so devoid of familiar moments that it makes you nervous, and keeps the sound so captivating. With lines like “Every party needs a no-show” and rotating casts of instrumentation, the track truly keeps you on your toes as a listener. With base taking control on “Cold In The Summer,” Mangan is aggressive and purposeful, while making abstract statements about exactly who can catch a cold in the summer. Between his eerily realistic lyricism and the magical way his piano hooks feel memorable almost immediately, this song grabs onto you quickly. Mangan takes a punk charge on “Troubled Mind” and lets his more atmospheric writing shape his ferocity in this larger-than-life rock song.
All this kind of music makes it so shocking to hear something like “Fool For Waiting” as Mangan sweeps into a lament about hoping for the best. In this way, his message is so stark and lacking the hope of the rest of the album that it hurts to hear. “Can’t Not” on the other hand pushes a sense of mysterious wonder as bass rushes while effects take hold of Mangan’s vocals. Pulling back to his themes of relinquishing yourself to the void, this track is one of the few to tap into that wholeheartedly. Even “Never Quiet” starts to veer into worrying energies, as strings and shifting percussion put you in a place of unease between Mangan’s particular characters. Although “Which Is It” does feel a little average of a track to end on, it’s no less entrancing than other tracks here. Thanks to its truly mesmerizing sweeps of synths and guitar, the track finally catches up to the mystery of its own question.
Words by Owen Maxwell