Distance by Dan Michaelson & The Coastguards is a haunting triumph which finds the perfect accompaniment to Michaelson’s exposed voice
an Michaelson & The Coastguards have returned with the follow-up to last year’s Blindspot. Distance was written in Montauk, Long Island and recorded in Hackney, London, and sounds like a very English sort of Americana. Brushed drums and pedal steel are countered by weaving guitar lines and piano. The distinctive baritone of Dan Michaelson is the perfect centre-point to bring this unique fusion of British and American sounds.
Album opener Evergreen may start with Michaelson singing “when all the leaves are brown” but he is not about to start dreaming of California sun, instead inviting us to roll around in the cold with him and his band. His famous vocals still sound as if they are cut from both the roughest earth and the harshest sea, yet rather than make you want to run for cover they tempt to you to stay around.
It is an album which provides his craggy voice with a dreamlike accompaniment. During Every Step, all but bass and snare are removed as he delivers the line “I strip the sheets out from the bed/ it makes it easier to forget” and in doing so provides enough space for the lyrics to really hit home. Similarly during the first verse of Somewhere (which wouldn’t sound out of place on Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ The Boatman’s Call), piano chords lie down for Michaelson to fall onto as he repeatedly asks “Don’t I owe you more?”, before soaring towards the end with Johnny Flynn’s violin.
There are also moments of surprise to be found on Distance, none more so than when the bassline from Ultravox’s Vienna starts, and drives along, Getting It Wrong. Uptempo lead single Burning Hearts gets the toes tapping before you realise you’ve been jigging along as a marriage turns sour. However, the remaining six songs largely stick to the same formula and perhaps this is why there are, as previously, only eight tracks on the album. There is no time for ears to long for something sunnier, no filler nor extended noodling, and it is to the band’s credit.
Distance is an album to listen to with a drink in your hand and a dog at your feet. It is an album that knows that only by asking tough questions will you learn the real answers, and it is an album that will be enjoyed by many as they face the cold night.
Verdict: English Americana, Michaelson-style