A steady drumbeat and bass line open Dan Mangan’s new album, More or Less. As a smattering of synthesized trills thread through the song, Mangan’s voice floats in dreamy waves: “Every morning’s a resurrection,” he sings. It’s a fitting reintroduction to the Vancouver-based singer-songwriter, who is emerging after years of focused domesticity with his wife and kids.
“Becoming a parent is diving headfirst into a pool and figuring out what it’s like to be underwater,” the 35-year-old says. The noise of the world he left behind—he had been touring his music non-stop across the globe—became distant rumblings above the surface when he was immersed in mortgage payments and Lego. “Eventually, your head pops back up, but you’re still up to your neck in water—there are two parts to yourself.” Now ready to rejoin the world, he has begun to re-establish his identity as an artist.
“There is a melancholic [element to] this record, but there’s also this tenderness,” Mangan says. “I like that this record feels more like a hug.”
Having made his mark a decade ago with acoustic-driven verses about robots in need of love, he took a markedly dark turn with 2015’s genre-bending Club Meds, briefly puncturing his nesting period. The album tackled the hypocrisy and percolating evils Mangan felt he saw in the world, and though he speaks very fondly of the record, he recognizes it as feeling a bit cold.
With More or Less, Mangan is unapologetically earnest about being caught in “quarter-life blues”, no longer in the know; he revels in the peaks of marriage while weathering the valleys, finding vibrancy in the normality in between. “There is a melancholic [element to] this record, but there’s also this tenderness,” Mangan says. “I like that this record feels more like a hug.” Even when he voices his anxieties about the overwhelming issues in the world, there is a soothing reassurance in “Just Fear” to allow “the privilege of a calm mind” every once in a while, along with the infectious, hip-wiggling beat of “Troubled Mind”, which Mangan playfully calls a “bummer jam”.
Mangan admits to leaning on vagueness in his past lyrics, but with More or Less he wanted to be direct. Certainly, there’s no veil over what might be his most traditional love ballad yet, “Fool for Waiting”. He croons the lines, “If you try to be with me, I will try to get by,” which he admits to laughing at upon first writing, thinking it too saccharine. “When you lay it all out in such a simple manner, you’re risking being super-duper cheesy.” But the more he thought about it, the more he liked how straightforward it was.
There’s an intimacy to the songs that forgoes cliché, aided by a sonic minimalism that lets the lyrics stand strong. The shift in sound comes from working with new producers, Simone Felice (the Lumineers) and Radiohead and Beck collaborator Drew Brown. Where Mangan’s songs have typically been layered in strings and horns and harmonizing vocals, More or Less pulls back—though there’s still plenty going on: lyrics and melody often juxtapose moods, while Mangan describes how Brown mashed an Omnichord (an electric autoharp) like a video game controller, the result cascading like rain droplets onto a pond.
“I don’t have time for bullshit in my life,” Mangan says. “I just want as much amazing, beautiful, tender, honest communication as possible.” This extends beyond his own music: Mangan is a co-founder of Side Door, a tech start-up that matches performers with hosts, booking and managing sales in a transparent pricing operation that sidesteps the usual gatekeepers. “I like the idea of democratizing the entertainment industry … I’d love to see a world where people can make a living doing what they love.” After all, he knows the value of relationships forged with audiences of 15 people can grow to the support of filling dream venues like Vancouver’s Orpheum.
“Success is not a dirty word, accessibility is not a dirty word. You know what’s a dirty word? Dishonesty,” he says. “If I can just tap into what I’m feeling in a very direct, vulnerable way—then hopefully someone else will connect with it.” More than mass appeal, More or Less offers an unguarded Mangan in a manner of mass communication.
Listen to “Lynchpin”, the opening song from Mangan’s new album, More or Less, now.
Photos by Vanessa Heins.
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