Dan Mangan - More or Less

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I’m writing these words on one of the (as yet) coldest days of our current winter season.

I’m not usually a winter apologist, but this year I’ve found myself quick to leap to the season’s defense. As I mentioned in my last post: the last few lukewarm years seem to have discombobulated our collective sense of winter-normal. Hard to blame a thing for being what a thing is supposed to be, right?

Nevertheless, we target this season in the harshest terms possible: Bleak, brutal, bone-chilling, relentless.

But who am I kidding… it has been precisely those things. Though I’ve managed to remain in a relatively positive musical space for most of this winter (I’m prone to seasonal-music-affective-disorder), there is a time and place to dive in and dwell a bit in the winterness. As “they” say: ‘Tis now or n̶e̶v̶e̶r̶… approximately 272 days from now.

Back in 2013, I put a track by Dan Mangan called “Leaves, Trees, Forest” on my annual Autumn This Year mix. A beautiful and haunting little number typical of the artist’s introspection. I realized that I hadn’t heard anything recent from Mangan and decided to look him up and see what he’d been strumming lately. I was pleasantly surprised to find a new album dropped at the tail end of last year. More or Less has put me in the perfect headspace as I wait out the last few dying weeks of the cold.

Lay low - Just let the day go
I’m okay in the shadows
Every single party needs a no-show
Why go just to say so?
I’m tired of the same old
So point me the way home
I can breathe on the way home
— Dan Mangan "Lay Low"

This album is a gift for us music lovers who place lyrics as king (queen, jack, ten and ace) on a pedestal . There is so much delicious-red-word-meat to dig your mental teeth into here. Mangan turns atleast one phrase on almost every song that makes me smile and mutter outloud to myself: “Oof, that’s good!”

Through these 10 beautiful tracks Mangan summons an all too familiar feeling of not quite being made for the particular (bizarro) world you find yourself filling up space in… or perhaps even more eerily unsettling: not being at home in the body and mind that you’re forced to inhabit. It’s a feeling that I (and probably most of us if we’re honest) greet on a daily basis in this crazy modern life.

“Troubled Mind” was a quick and early fave for me. I had it on repeatrepeatrepeat for days. It’s taut and paranoid and drivingly perfect. Most of the other 9 tracks will grow quickly on you and I’ve become real fond of most of them. “Lay Low” speaks deeply to the introverted-socially-awkward-soul that dwells inside of me. “Can’t Not” bubbles and swells like it’s teetering on the edge of a panic attack. The more I dig into the album the more “Just Fear” really bowls me over… it’s probably the best thesis statement for this set of songs. A perfect display of what Mangan seems to be trying to get across:

At first listen More or Less comes across as a Doom/Gloom opus.

Nope. It’s a Trojan Horse. Sure, he points a very large set of fingers at all the mess and muck and madness, but as you continue listening it’s clear that it’s to illuminate the absurdity of it all. Throughout the album he gives listeners a continual choice about perspective and ultimately future direction. Heck, the choice is cleverly tucked away in the album title AND the final track literally leaves the question up in the air for the listener to wrestle back down to earth.

To put it in terms of our winter analogy: are you gonna focus on the cold and snow or can you see those little green shoots pushing up right below the surface: Which is it?

So if you are convinced this winter (actual or metaphorical) is going to last forever: don’t worry, friend.

As Mr. Mangan so acutely points out: “Well, it’s just fear messing with us…”