Being Somewhere is a love letter to anyone fighting the darkness, feeling the weight of change and uncertainty of the future.
Before, when I thought of Dan Mangan, I pictured his 2010 Polaris Music Prize Gala performance of “Robots” (off his shortlisted album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice). It was a delightfully shabby chic audience sing-along, a performance bursting with earnestness from an artist wearing something of a shit-eating grin, in wonder and awe of the moment.
Four albums later (five if you count Club Meds, released in 2015 as Dan Mangan + Blacksmith), the earnestness hasn’t faded, even if the grin and music have grown more muted and subtle. Being Somewhere is Mangan’s pandemic album, his long-distance love affair with collaborator/producer Drew Brown. A press release for the record tabulates that it took over 500 emails, hundreds of phone calls and text messages, and just three days in the studio over a two-and-a-half-year period to complete. At nine songs and just over thirty minutes of music, Being Somewhere has all the charm and spontaneity of an album tossed off over a long weekend. The more you delve into the album and the closer you listen, it becomes apparent how much time, effort, and craft has gone into its meticulous creation.
Mangan and Brown’s musical shift from acoustic troubadour into deconstructed, minimalist electro-folk on 2018’s More or Less carried a tension and manic quality that felt like a floodgate would open at any moment, releasing a sea of anxieties and worries into the world. Being Somewhere is the exact opposite. It is an external manifestation of love and care for others. He’s called the album “a comforting embrace,” and everything about that sentiment rings true. Opener “All My People” opens with Mangan singing over top acoustic guitar before haunting atmospherics bubble to the surface as he tries to make sense of sudden isolation and dropped connections and pining that we’ll return to a sense of normalcy “some day soon.” There’s an underlying spirit of optimism amid the fever dream and murky waters on “Fire Escape:” “Alright, we’re in the trenches now / I don’t know when the party’s over / All I know is I’m getting out somehow.”
Not everyone does, though. For some, like Scott Hutchison of Scotland-based band Frightened Rabbit, the trenches of despair and loneliness grow deeper and unscalable. Hutchison died by suicide in 2018, and his passing deeply affected Mangan, who penned “In Your Corner (for Scott Hutchison).” Mangan’s song acts as a response to Hutchinson’s lyrics in the song “The Woodpile,” answering the question “Will you come back to my corner? / Spent too long alone tonight,” with the lines: “Leave a light on when it’s bad / We will congregate and make a plan / We’ll be in your corner.”
Mangan kept his word. Being Somewhere is a love letter to anyone fighting the darkness, feeling the weight of change and uncertainty of the future. It is a record that offers respite and escape in measures equal to its artistry and attention to detail. From now on when I think of Dan Mangan, I will picture his solemn monochrome portrait on Being Somewhere’s album cover, feel the care emanating from its tunes, and recall how very nice it is to know he’ll always be in our corner.
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