Dan Mangan's accomplished third album Oh Fortune is strangely captivating. The Canadian singer songwriter has created something special that shows real progression musically without sounding laboured. That's certainly a difficult feat for an artist in his mid twenties who's still finding his feet.
The most noticeable thing about Oh Fortune is the variety of the material. Ranging from the tender and melancholy death march of 'If I Am Dead' and the Jeff Buckley indebted 'Starts With Them, Ends With Us' to the Vampire Weekend stomp of 'Post War Blues', Mangan is like a musical chameleon. Despite his ability to be at ease with a solitary guitar or an orchestra, none of the 11 songs here sound like filler with each deserving their place on this thematically cohesive endeavour.
The ominous piano opening of 'About As Helpful as You Can Get Without Being Any Help At All' fades to reveal a string and brass led waltz that lays out Mangan's lyrical blueprint for the record. "There were sharks below
hungry for me so I dangled my legs. I lit up like a match, because I bled gasoline." The gallows humour is something that runs throughout the record and it helps to ensure that the weighty subjects of death and rebirth, which punctuate the material, don't become overly depressing.
In his darkest moments Mangan sounds like a broken man, for example in 'Leaves Trees, Forest' he exclaims; "I know there is hope, but I can't look for it." It's this frank soul searching that provides a heart to the record and a depth to the material that elevates it to something you'll happily revisit. It's also worth mentioning that Mangan's not averse to writing less delicate songs with big solos. 'Rows Of Houses' springs to mind with its feedback drenched guitars and memorable vocal melody.
As the eleven tracks draw to a close with the more wistful 'Jeopardy' it's clear that Oh Fortune poses a number of questions (quite literally in the final moments of the record). Will Mangan continue to explore more introspective material? Will he look to develop the impressive array of instruments in his arsenal? And why did he litter Oh Fortune with references to flammable objects and fire? Whatever the answers are, he's sure to continue to surprise and charm in equal measure. While it's a record that will fly under the radar of many people Oh Fortune certainly deserves to be heard as a signpost of even better things to come from Dan Mangan.