Tuesday, August 19, 2014

REVIEW: Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards - Distance

With his gravelly baritone, Dan Michaelson may remind a listeners of Leonard Cohen or, perhaps, Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening.  It is a commanding instrument, but also, I think, a dangerous one.  A voice like that can become monotonous over the course of an album if the delivery isn't right and the songs don't have enough innate sparkle.  Fortunately, on Distance, both Dan and the songs are more than up to the task.

For this album, crafted in the aftermath of his divorce, Dan is exploring loss, heartache and related issues of physical and emotional distance.  There are emotional pleas such as "come on home I want you, come on home I need you" in "Bones", swathed in minor keys.  But hope, resilience and, most refreshingly, an absence of self-pity ultimately make this album a triumph of the spirit rather than a funereal dirge.  And while Dan and the Coastguards (I love that name) are in fine form musically, the real stars are Dan's unaffected delivery and the quality of his lyrics.  Happily, the production allows both to shine.  In eight tracks over thirty minutes, the first glance could suggest that this album is quiet and slight.  But my take is that Distance is proof that the true measure of a set of songs isn't in the decibels or running time, but rather in the power of the words and the conviction of the performance.

Here is the more upbeat showcase track "Burning Hearts" --

In addition to Dan, Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards are Laurie Earle, Horse, Henry Spenner, Gabriel Stebbing, Romeo Stodart and Johnny Flynn.  Distance is out now via London label The State51 Conspiracy.

The State51 Conspiracy

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