Compared to most US cities, let alone most of Canada, Vancouver was never at the forefront of music production. Sure, in the early ’00s we had Nelly Furtado and Nickelback, but artists with real talent seemed to be hidden in the city’s glassy undergrowth. Spring forward a few years, and there is a sudden emergence of high-caliber bands such as Japandroids, The New Pornographers, and Ladyhawk.
One such artist that seems to thrive in this “Wet Coast” is Dan Mangan, whose quiet debut album, Postcards & Dreaming, seemed ripe for rainy afternoons by the sea. As is the case for many bands, the road to success wasn’t easy, and Mangan was a tireless force in promoting his own work, playing every gig he could and building an intensely loyal fan base.
His hard work has certainly paid off. His latest album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice, shows a wise-beyond-his-years Mangan in a sparse yet harmonically rich setting. At times, he is reminiscent of an optimistic Damien Rice or a rough-voiced David Grey, but that’s not to say he doesn’t have his own share of cynical, honest lyrics and his own twist on the folksy, heartache genre. He’s been heralded as Canada’s next big indie sensation, and as tired as those comparisons are, I can definitely understand them after a few listens.
The album opens with “Road Regrets”, which may be the best song on the record. It builds formidably with a riffing acoustic guitar, dramatic drumbeats, and Mangan’s wailing, emotionally choked voice singing, ”And ain’t it always the way that takes you back to from where it is you came.” It’s raw, it’s real, and best of all, you can relate.
“Robots” is a playful song that balances wry observation of daily life (“Spent half of my life in the customer service line/flaws in the design”) with a silly chorus (“Robots need love too/they want to be loved by you”). The soaring horn sections and earnest delivery stop this from becoming something too coy. For a more upbeat change, there’s “Some People”, which lifts the listener’s spirits with saloon-style piano chords, slide guitar, and a slap-your-knees tempo.
There’s nothing too radical or life-changing on this well-produced album, but as a whole it works as another soulful, sincere contribution to an often cliche folk genre. Mangan is a compelling songwriter and has a pleasing, personable voice that gives life to his insightful poetry. This type of music isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but if you like drinking hot mugs of stuff in a quaint coffee house or wrapped in a quilt while listening to the rain fall, you’d be hard pressed to find anything better.