For Senior Editor Tia Julien, Dan Mangan’s Oh Fortune is a moving landscape of emotion, a world in its own.
The orchestral magic of the opening track of Dan Mangan’s Oh Fortune, “About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All,” is an emotional mix of nostalgia and hope. The titles of the album’s tracks are all very fitting, but the opener sums up what this album means to me. At a particularly dreary point in my life, Oh Fortune was the shimmering colour-spectrum for just that moment when the light hits right. With one foot in the past and one in the future, Mangan comments on moving through life: “Both feet together, slowly progressing, always in time.” Electric organ laments while steel strings shine against soft brushes. The result is a moving landscape of emotion, a world in its own.
Following his breakout album Nice Nice Very Nice, Oh Fortune emerged in 2011, an integral step in Mangan’s gradual discography of diverse sounds that are all distinct but also kind of go together. Showing his hand as an arranger and composer, Oh Fortune pushed the boundaries of what Mangan makes of being a guy with a guitar. Exploring depth and contrasting timbers on “How Darwinian”, Mangan writes with a political cheek: “People don’t know what they want, they just know they really want it.”
Approaching its ten-year anniversary (it was released on September 27, 2011), the brassy fanfare of “Starts With Them, Ends With Us” still gets my band-geek senses tingling, reminding me of the unrivalled expression of a blaring trumpet in a high school music room. Although I didn’t have a grasp on grief when I first heard these songs, I think some part of me recognized the visceral amalgamation of love and loss on “Regarding Death and Dying”. The understanding I felt while listening to mourning harmonies was all I needed to feel less alone.
For me, Oh Fortune is the epitome of what it means to give and receive, whatever your medium may be. It’s the capacity to affect a shared understanding of humanity with the effect of forming community. It’s a choice we make to connect: “Oh, choices / bring voices / resound.”
I am continually astonished by the connections we form through music across the peaks and valleys that ordinarily divide us. As an adolescent, the run-on-sentence title “About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All” amused me, but now it’s like a mantra about minimizing harm and maximizing our best efforts to alleviate suffering: “don’t count the feathers, just count the wings.”
Anyone who knows me knows there is nothing more comforting to my aching soul than a Dan Mangan song. And that’s just one consistent thing that makes me fortunate.