Album Reviews

Dan Michaelson And The Coastguards – Blindspot

(The State51 Conspiracy) UK release date: 25 March 2013

Dan Michaelson & The Coastguards - Blindspot Dan Michaelson originally found success as the lead singer of alt-rock band Absentee, working with artists such as producer James Ford of Arctic Monkeys and Mystery Jets fame, and touring with bands such as The Magic Numbers, Bloc Party and Silver Jews. These past musical offerings possibly point to the sense of maturity showcased in Blindspot’s subtle nuances and developed songwriting style.

The focus of the album is Michaelson’s voice, which has drawn obvious comparisons to Leonard Cohen and Bill Callahan, but the fragility of his instrument should not be derived as a negative aspect of the album. His words never exceed a whisper, and this sense of fragility arguably leads to stability amongst the atmospheric utterances that accompany much of Michaelson’s material. The use of slide guitar, and almost Michael Nyman-esque string and French horn arrangements which ‘swell’ at all the right moments, make for a particularly interesting sense of emotional development throughout the project, and a marked development from his previous outing with The Coastguards, 2010’s Shakes, which displayed a more conventional guitar and drum led accompaniment. Here, however, the backing band is used to reflect and interpret Michaelson’s voice, but never to overshadow it.

Whilst it is difficult to pinpoint stand-out tracks due to the nature of their understated conception, moments such as the single Sheets, which has had some notable airplay, seem to characterise the mood, and significant features of the whole album, within its smaller parts. Here, Michaelson displays both the aforementioned sense of fragility in his vocal chords but also a sense of vulnerability in his songwriting. The simplicity of his arrangements must not be interpreted as underdeveloped but, in songs such as Sheets, entirely appropriate, and with an air of the Bob Dylan about them. Within the opening lines of the single, Michaelson seems to admit defeat with “I’ll let you win again” met by a beautiful cello counter-melody and the simplicity and delicacy in the acoustic accompaniment.

There is almost a low hum to this album, a low-key approach that focuses on the subtleties in portraying the larger ideals, of loss, reflection and heartbreak. Whilst this may run the risk of becoming downright depressing, moments such as the bridge in Gambling are, quite frankly, sublime and display some beautiful moments that only add to the depth displayed by Michaelson’s songwriting and the experience in his voice, which becomes almost like an old friend by the close; familiar, comforting and particularly endearing.

The album is surprisingly short, at eight tracks and around half an hour, but the depth to Michaelson’s songwriting ensures that the “subtle reflection on what is left in the peripheries” is effectively depicted in its short time-span. The closing track By My Side, another well-crafted creation, finds Michaelson croaking the refrain “you can run all you like,” presumably away from by his side. The album, however, remains far too personally reflective for this to occur, too endearing, and with a persistent sense of apprehension regarding what we “didn’t account for, even though it is only just out of sight and understanding”.

An understated quality, conveyed through Michaelson’s sensibility as a songwriter, is also reflected in his character with a Twitter account under the name of Dan Mumbleson, and his sales pitch for the album in that it is “already being championed online for having one of the best barcodes of 2013”. This album is much more than a barcode though, and much more than a mediocre mainstream offering. Here, Michaelson manages to encapsulate the unknown, the insecurities of adulthood, with subtlety and grace and, whilst those concerns are considered, he chills his audience out with some particularly heartfelt, and exceptional, musical moments.

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Dan Michaelson And The Coastguards – Blindspot