Twelve months ago, we commenced our new year with a review of the last vinyl purchase made the previous year – and as we once again welcome the annual changing-of-the-calendar, the opportunity to repeat this exercise was just too good to pass when finding a cracking 2022 Canadian album at our local record store just prior to the holidays.
When our independent store happens to be located in a small western-Maryland town, it was quite the surprise to find a copy of “Being Somewhere,” the latest offering from Vancouver’s Dan Mangan, in their recent arrivals section. It is not everyday that you stumble across vinyl from a two-time JUNO Award winner (and two-time Polaris Prize nominee) when you least expect it – but once discovered, this pressing was quickly purchased and brought home to Central PA for its inaugural spin on the GDW turntable.
Dan’s music first came to our attention following the release of his “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” album, with SXM stations CBC Sonica and CBC Radio 3 blitzing our listening pleasures with popular cuts such as “Robots,” “The Indie Queens Are Waiting,” and, of course, “Road Regrets.” And, as Dan’s career progressed, so too did our radio dial, with SXM steering us from “Sonica” to “The Verge,” and currently to “North Americana” – the one constant being that Dan’s music remains ever-present on our channel surfing journeys.
Released back in late October, Dan’s sixth full-length solo album (seventh if you include “Club Meds,” his 2015 sojourn as Dan Mangan & Blacksmith) offers everything that fans expect – notably some stellar songwriting and content set against an almost delirious backdrop of synths, drum pads, and other assorted electronica and instrumental wizardry. Yet, “All My People,” the opening track does not overwhelm the listener too soon, commencing with soft, soothing cues that intensify gradually – before the interesting mix of instrumentation explodes to bring the song to a close.
Progress through the album, and you’ll quickly find familiarity as the sounds meet your expectations, yet with cuts such as “Just Know It” and “In Your Corner (For Scott Hutchison),” while the material is farm-fresh, the listening experience is true and vintage Mangan. “I wanted this album to feel like the inside crook of a familiar elbow on the nape of your neck, a comforting embrace,” Dan offers. “These songs are tenderhearted and unfurl like an overdue conversation with a dear friend. They essentially lay out where we’re at, how I’m doing, and how I think I can help.”
Not dissimilar to what we have heard from other prominent artists over the last couple of years, creating new music and recording an album during a global pandemic presented many fresh and unforeseen challenges – and for Mangan, this release came to life following over 500 emails, over 100 hours of phone calls, and thousands of text messages. Dan recalls just how a mere three days were actually spent together in person with collaborator and producer Drew Brown (Beck, Radiohead) over the two and a half years of long-distance work – and how such a displaced recording process might make anyone question the concept of being anywhere at all, let alone being somewhere else. “The hard part was waiting … sometimes it took six weeks to resolve an issue that could have taken twenty minutes had we been together in a room,” Dan shares. “But Drew’s dedication and talent cannot be understated, and this music doesn’t sound like anything else I’m hearing these days.”
“Are we the stillness of that frozen dawn? / Are we the beat after the moment’s gone? / Are we a toddler in a marathon where all roads lead to sweet oblivion?” Not only is Drew Brown’s influence pretty evident on Side A’s closing track, “All Roads,” but so too are those from Mangan’s own listening pleasures. “When I wrote the chorus, my first thought was, ‘this song could be from [U2’s] Achtung Baby!’,” Dan recalls. “And then I spent some time thinking about how much I loved that album as a kid. Memories of air-guitaring on the couch to Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses? I think a solid chorus should sum up big things in a simple way.”
From this initial spin of the vinyl, “Fire Escape” jumped out at me immediately – and not only due to the ‘self-doubt’ narrative found within the lyrics – but also in part to the slight reggae undertones detected beneath Dan’s signature sound. And I really am not surprised by this – BC artists often have a natural knack of mixing reggae beats to their music – whether as blatantly as Current Swell, or as discreetly as Terence Jack – yet Mangan soaks the tune up with enough indie-rock synths and effects to once again break all-genre-norms to keep him firmly rooted as a ‘square peg’ artist living within a ‘round hole’ music community. “Meet me out by the fire escape / It’s been forty nights and forty days / And I’ve become uncertain in a cosmic way / I chewed my fingers to the bone today.”
“Being Somewhere” presents yet another solid collection of tunes from Dan Mangan – one, as is the norm for this artist, that requires a deeper dive and several thorough and uninterrupted listens in order to fully engage with his creativity. “I understand that this music demands something of the listener,” Dan offers. “It can feel scattered at first glance, but when it comes into focus, it is an assault of carefully placed hooks. The initial randomness settles into purpose, but it takes a moment. Considering the modern context in which music is released and the manic 8-seconds-of-watchtime-or-die algorithmic deflation of our collective attention span, it’s a little terrifying to release this in 2022.”
Instant melodic gratification is not the point here – if that is your own personal cup of tea, you may want to keep on walking. But for those who enjoy a somewhat cryptic and engaged relationship between an intelligent artist and his audience, I highly encourage you to spend a little time with “Being Somewhere” – because just like his aforementioned 2009 release, this one is also nice, nice, very nice.
Photo Credit: Jonah Atkins