Dan Mangan (from the album Thief on Arts & Crafts Productions) (by Chris Wheatley)
Another day, another talented Canadian musician, this time the eclectic singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Dan Mangan. Titled, with splendid wryness, Thief, the latest offering from this notable artist is a collection of nine covers, and a very interesting selection it is too. Dan Mangan clearly has a cerebral approach, he has written for both The Guardian and The Huffington Post and the title of his 2009 album Nice, Nice, Nice was inspired by the work of maverick author Kurt Vonnegut. He is also no stranger to hard work and dedication. Mangan recorded his first EP in 2003 at the age of twenty, funded by a bank loan and the good will of musician friends. Fast-forward to 2012 and he picked up a double-helping of Juno Awards, including New Artist of the Year, the epitome of the cliched ten-year overnight success. Dan Mangan is a musician who is always worth listening to, exploring as he does, new ideas and virgin territory, which makes Thief an especially intriguing proposition.
Cover songs are an art-form, or rather they should be. Plenty of cash-in's have been made over the decades with straight-forward re-recordings of hits. It is this writer's often-asserted view that, if you're going to cover a song, you should aim to wrest something new from it. REM's “Losing My Religion” might seem a hard mountain to climb, in that respect, but this is exactly where Mangan starts. I'm happy to say that he is far too good a musician to simply re-hash. The song here, while retaining its compelling pathos and honesty, is transformed into a beguiling whirl of acoustic finger-picked guitar, ghostly echoes of strings and keys, gently pulsing synth multi-tracked vocals and a chorus which is even more catchy than the original version. Throughout it all, Mangan manages to capture a surprisingly light feel, never detracting from simple song-structure and the efficacy of his delicate vocals.
The fabulous Neutral Milk Hotel's “In the Aeroplane Over The Sea” is presented as a moving Folk ballad, complete with whistled melody line. In other hands this could be over-whimsical nonsense, but Dan Mangan injects a worthy amount of genuine emotion. John Hiatt's “Have A Little Faith in Me” is reflected, and a little twisted, through Mangan's lens into a semi-ambient, deeply affecting statement. Dan Mangan's voice calls out like a siren through slightly off-kilter keys and a wash of sound akin to (one imagines) galactic radiation. As with every track here, Mangan, though utilizing some impressive studio wizardry, manages to pull out the essential 'humanity' of each song. Fans of latter-day Peter Gabriel will find much to admire, and rightly so.
The cool neo-Soul of Lauryn Hill's “Ex-Factor” sounds light years away from the original, yet paradoxically is immediately familiar. Mangan's delicate fuzzy beats and soft, burbling keys decorate rather than obfuscate. The lightest touch of piano and drawn-out chords lifts Mangan's floating vocals up to a nuanced stratosphere. These heights provide a beautiful view. At the other end of the scale, so far as choice of material is concerned, and a good indicator of Mangan's width of vision, we have Yukon Blonde's bouncing Pop Rock “Stairway.” Dan Mangan's version is a deep and sparkling, slowed-down display, with thudding, mechanical drums juxtaposed against dancing synth bursts.
Bob Marley's “Chances Are” closes Thief. Arguably, this is a lesser-known track from the great Reggae star. The original is a beautiful, Soul-drenched slow number, with unusual doo-wop backing vocals. In Dan Mangan's hands, glacial, humming chords and flashes of sharp synth circle around his heart-felt delivery, harmonised by a second female voice. In its own, quite different, manner, this is as lovely as Marley's take. (by Chris Wheatley)
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