Dan Mangan and Blacksmith – Club Meds (2015)

Two weeks into 2015, three of my annually doomed new year’s resolutions have already fallen by the wayside – don’t eat the whole packet of red velvet Tim Tams in one sitting, wash clothing after its first wearing (as opposed to it’s fifth), and don’t treat your nieces and nephews like your own personal entertainment by teaching them ‘naughty’ things that are hilarious but will get them in trouble. Fortunately, Dan Mangan and Blackmsith are ensuring that I keep at least one resolution – find some awesome new music that takes my attention enough to maybe not have Metallica on repeat all day.

Club Meds is the latest offering from Dan Mangan and Blacksmith and the first Dan Mangan has written entirely with Blacksmith (an ensemble of experimental musicians from Vancouver and long-time collaborators of Mangan‘s). It’s clear from this sensational album that this is a collaboration that works! Club Meds is one of the most intriguing and captivating albums I have heard in a long time. There is absolutely nothing predictable about this album. From start to finish it is a genuinely interesting and entertaining, with not a single pedestrian moment.

There is so much going on in Club Meds that you really need to have each song on repeat for a day at a time just to hear all the parts and take it all in. But it’s by no means overwhelming. It simply gives the album a rare depth that holds your attention through all 11 songs.

So many of the songs have either a strange intro or ending. Mangan’s voice changes character and delivery from song to song, portraying different emotions and telling different stories. And there is something about the repetitiveness in this album. It’s almost like music to soothe the savage beast.

The first 30-odd seconds of the first track Offred seem like the music from an intricately intense scene in a sci-fi movie. The electronic beats and soundscapes seem a bit otherworldly, but the constant ticking clock sound seems earthly and familiar. Then the song changes completely and rather unexpectedly. Then around the 1-minute mark, Mangan’s voice kicks in, smooth yet slightly husky.

Vessel, the lead single, is up next. It instantly feels more upbeat and maybe a little reminiscent of some earlier Bjork or the David Byrne and St Vincent album Love this Giant. Much shorter than the opener at just over three minutes, it’s almost like they’re warming you up for something.

This is what they were warming you up for! Mouthpiece comes at you with straight determination, a bit like Glen Hansard meets Mumford and Sons. Some of my favourite drumming on the album is in this track.

A Doll’s House/Pavlovia follows and it’s straight back to the electronic intro before being joined by the guitar with a lovely changing dynamic-and-creeping-yet-amazing vocal parts. It’s maybe a bit Radiohead-ish. There’s comforting softness to this track. Lovely.

Kitsch – the repetitive percussion, repetitive guitar, and the rising layered vocals combine to make this another solid track.

The centrepiece of XVI are the vocals. The instrumentation is cleverly laid back leaving it wide open for the vocals do the work.

War Spoils is this haunting track with echoey vocals and an addictive darkness. The lyrics are almost indecipherable at first listen which only adds to the appeal. The vocals seem to be more blended with the other instrumentation in the mix of this track and it’s really effective.

Then with Forgetery comes another complete right hand turn. A catchy, solid pop song that finishes with a strange and slightly ethereal bit at the end.

The title track, Club Meds had another intriguing little intro but this time it at least gives you some kind of clue as to where the song is heading. I guess it’s there for balance. It certainly rounds the album out nicely…and still there are little surprises.

Pretty Good Joke – gradual build, adding layer and layer of sound before it plateau’]s out. Then using the drums to pick it up, it seems to grab a fistful of energy and then ever so gently moves back down. It also has my fave little lyrical section, ‘guilty, dirty, sorry.’

The album finishes with the beautiful New Skies. Stripped back in parts in comparison to the other songs but it’s by no means simple. The horn parts really lift the section between the verses. This track is the perfect way to end the album.

There is so much to rave about in this album; and with such wonderfully diverse tracks, it’s so hard to pick out a stand out track but Vessel is probably my fave, closely followed by War Spoils. If you’re already a Dan Mangan and Blackmsith fan, you’ll love this latest offering and if you’re a greenhorn (like myself) you’ll wonder why how you lived this long without them.

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