Musically, Mangan transitions nicely into this relatively experimental frame of mind. Opener “Offred” serves up a beautiful dose of guitars and synth-induced atmosphere, with Mangan’s distinctive baritone nicely blending into the chaos. Singles “Vessel” and “Mouthpiece” are the most straightforward tracks of the bunch. Despite the electric guitar arpeggios, “Mouthpiece” feels closest to Mangan’s earlier material, with rapidly strummed acoustic guitars and a fiery chorus. Other highlights include the title track, which boasts whammy pedal effects that make it feel like a moodier cousin of Radiohead’s “My Iron Lung”, and “Kitsch”, a slow-burner so mesmerizing it can be forgiven for initially off-putting lyrics like “Ladies in dresses/ Whores in the bedroom.”
Elsewhere, however, “War Spoils” is a droning snoozer that’s more distracting than mood-setting despite the pretty instrumental flourishes. And sometimes the arrangements feel like they’ve been taken too obviously out of the Grizzly Bear playbook: intricate, ominous chord progressions from uniquely tuned guitars. Despite its mixed offerings, Club Meds is a fascinating and unpredictable new direction from Mangan, surviving its own missteps. A few risks fail, but everything’s more interesting.
Club Meds is a record of craft and honesty, but it’s never preachy, preening or self-important - and that’s its greatest achievement. Indeed, the more fulsome material is often followed by the gnomic, resulting in an interesting push/pull throughout. The abstractive retreats of ‘War Spoils’ and ‘A Doll’s House / Pavlovia’, with lyrics almost dispassionately intoned and buried in a mix of whining synths and muffled strings, sound like the shuffling of medicated patients. Macabre and intriguing at the same time, they save the album from being single paced.
Mangan emerges a songwriter re-energised, unashamedly impassioned and literate, a man unmistakably eager to make a lasting mark. Braced by the impetus of a new collaboration, Club Meds feels like a January day; bleakly bare and unforgiving, but that belies its texture and stark beauty, like an Ansel Adams photograph. It’s a pleasure to hear a group take a step forward on a record of reflection and insight, and whilst it may lack a visceral thrill for some and needs to be approached with a careful ear, many will appreciate the nuance, engagement and depth it offers.
Dan Mangan + Blacksmith auf Tour:
09.04.15 Köln, Gebäude 9
14.04.15 München, Strom
15.04.15 Dresden, Beatpol
16.04.15 Berlin, Postbahnhof
17.04.15 Hamburg, Übel und Gefährlich
18.04.15 Bremen, Nordlicht Festival
19.04.15 Heidelberg, Querbeet Festival