Oh Fortune immediately strikes of ambition from the very first note. Where previously Dan Mangan had relied more often than not upon his acoustic strumming, electric backing band and deep, grizzly vocal; an overwhelming sense of employing the collective has seeped into the Canadian songwriters catalogue.
The album opener About As Helpful as You Can Get Without Being Any Help At All – may be an unnecessarily wordy song title – however the luscious orchestral sounds that grace one’s ears upon its introduction show that perhaps the ironic title fits the bill. It is the utilisation of instruments that you would perhaps not expect to hear on a Dan Mangan record, that truly compound the sense of progression from 2009’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice – which in itself was a strong record.
The somewhat haunting vibes of How Darwinian are contrasted by the thrusting drum rolls and chugging guitar of the following Post-War Blues. The latter track consists of infectious guitar licks that screech their way over Mangan’s layered vocals, in a song that shifts from brooding, to pop, and back again.
However, do not assume that Mangan has simply abandoned the acoustic sensibilities that have brought him this far. If I Am Dead is a pensive, acoustic affair that begins with a voice, acoustic guitar and whistles – before the slow build up of drums bring the track to its climax.
Throughout the record each track seems to be inextricably linked to what came before, and after, thanks to the use of lingering sounds that flow from one song to the next. It is a nice trick that maintains the flow of the record, however perhaps Mangan has swung too far in a direction away from previous jaunts. Take Daffodil, for example. Here is a track that is primarily just computer generated noise and Mangan’s distinctive voice. It feels almost apocalyptic at times and lacks that personable persona that we have come to associate with the singer songwriter. This is not to say that it is a poor track – it just seemingly takes an extreme a little too far.
Starts With Them, Ends With Us has something of a Mumford and Sons vibe about it – if the aforementioned band did away with their banjo player – as it builds up to a deafeningly brilliant crescendo full of wind instruments. The track’s conclusion brings a joyous end to what is possibly the stand out track.
Rows of Houses brings crunching electric guitars to the sonic party in a trial of separation from the likes of Oh Fortune and Leaves, Trees, Forest and sets the listener up for a crashing fall with the two remaining tracks on the record. Regarding Death And Dying and Jeopardy are two downbeat, reflective tracks that pleasingly draw an end to Mangan’s most elaborate record to date.
This album is quite simply one of progression. It’s a mature outing that sees Dan Mangan flexing his muscles and moving into a deeper, more serious realm – while maintaining a sense of humour that existed on previous records. The use of wind and string instruments is a joyous success that will open Mangan up to a wider spectrum of listeners – however this is not to say that his musical integrity has been tarnished. This album is one that leaves you wanting more. It leaves you wondering which twist and turn Dan Mangan will take next and that is high praise indeed.