With its expansive sonic palette and nervy, politically, and socially charged disposition, the fourth outing from the Juno Award-winning singer/songwriter, Club Meds, feels more like square one for the shape-shifting Vancouverite. Mangan illuminates the shift in tone by issuing the album under a new moniker that better reflects the weight being carried by his backing band, the aptly named Blacksmith, who dutifully hammer and shape each song into submission, just as their collective nom de plume would suggest. Front-loaded with two of its most impressive set pieces, the expansive, slow-building "Offred" and the powerful and provocative first single, "Vessel" ("It takes a village to raise a fool"), the 11-track set feels like a single organism, due in large part to the jettisoning of any kind of acoustic/voice traditional singer/songwriter structure and an overall intensity of delivery that evokes stadium-era Peter Gabriel. It's heady, but it's also muscular and relentlessly melodic, especially on some of the more adventurous numbers like the Radiohead-esque "A Doll's House/Pavlovia" and the ramshackle "Pretty Good Joke," the latter of which adopts an almost playful, chamber pop persona that pairs nicely with the track's overarching sense of cosmic dread. By maintaining a more or less accessible alt-pop center, Mangan and company have given themselves free reign to fill in the edges with whatever they see fit, which they do with gusto throughout Club Meds' perfectly acceptable 45-minute runtime, which is something that only happens when a band, not an individual, is firing on all cylinders.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger