Dan Mangan’s 2009 sophomore album remains his most quintessential; each track fits together like puzzle pieces.
I can still vividly recall the time I was introduced to Dan Mangan’s 2009 album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice. It was 2015, and I was a few weeks into an exchange program in rural south-east England. A new friend and I would recommend artists for one another to check out. As far as I can remember, Nice, Nice, Very Nice was the first album he suggested to me. I’d gaze out on miles of cow pastures while sitting on a grassy slope in the damp September dusk. I was discovering new music in the exact inverse way of how I would typically experience it: listening to a Canadian artist in a foreign land that was my temporary home.
I was hooked. I spent the next week devouring and dissecting Mangan’s entire catalogue (at the time, he had recently released Club Meds, his fourth album). Out of all his releases to date, Nice, Nice, Very Nice is the quintessential Dan Mangan record. It’s arguably his most recognized and successful record, but the reason it’s consummate Mangan is the way that each track fits together like an intricately shaped puzzle piece. Once the puzzle’s complete, you can either take it apart and re-do it another day or keep that puzzle propped up on the mantelpiece for all to enjoy.
Nice, Nice, Very Nice finds Mangan less melancholic and less filled with early twenties angst than on his 2005 debut, Postcards and Daydreaming. He claims to have grown up in the period between the two albums, and it shows. Mangan was twenty-six in 2009 but sounds wise beyond his years. Nice, Nice, Very Nice serves up catchy, upbeat vibes and playful lyricism in a way that’s much easier to surrender to than on its predecessor. Knowing where Mangan is at present — a thirty-six-year-old family man writing about steering clear of social gatherings (“Lay Low”) or fearing getting sick in the summer (“Cold in the Summer”) — in hindsight Nice, Nice, Very Nice is the metaphorical catapult propelling forward. His witty writing style is still there on 2011’s Oh Fortune, the aforementioned Club Meds (credited to Dan Managan and bis backing band Blacksmith), and last autumn’s minimalistic More or Less. While all those albums are pleasing on the ears, Nice, Nice, Very Nice is the most satisfying.
The first two tracks, chosen as singles, frame Nice, Nice, Very Nice in the same way edge pieces help frame and define a puzzle. Though “Road Regrets” predates Hey Rosetta!’s “Seeds” by eighteen months, the two songs’ themes correlate: making your mark on the road and escaping home to find yourself aboard. In a way, “Road Regrets” foresees Mangan’s involvement in Side Door, a project that allows up-and-coming artists to collaborate with hosts that curate “the show” in their own private venues. “Robots” contains the catchiest chorus of Mangan’s discography. He claims to have written this gem while experiencing the terror of being disconnected, waiting for a new cell phone to be delivered. The catchy hook and playful melody is a stark contrast to the glumness of Postcards and Daydreaming. Mangan’s musical evolution and growth continue on the album’s back half as songs like “Tina’s Glorious Comeback” and “Et les mots croises” snap together and fill in the middle of the puzzle. The former touches on differences you observe as you return to places that once had significant meaning in your formative years; the latter has him searching for sadness yet finding happiness in the girl who brings him tea and the morning crossword puzzle (a puzzle, you say?!).
Collaborators Heda Ville, Justin Rutledge, Hannah Georgas, and the various supporting characters that would eventually become Blacksmith all offer their own unique details to the overall sound and feel of Nice, Nice, Very Nice. Each help flesh out and fill in the puzzle’s remaining spaces. Ten years on, Nice, Nice, Very Nice continues to offer fresh insight and new perspectives. Like a favourite puzzle, it remains an album I come back to frequently, taking it off the proverbial shelf, laying all its pieces out in front of me as I contemplate how I’m going to put it back together this time.