Monday, 13 July 2015

The Finnish line

In 2011 I heard an album that just gripped me. So simple was it in its delivery, yet so absorbing. Just a woman and an acoustic guitar. No adornments, no tricks; just nine sparse, spectral, solemn songs in their nakedest, starkest form.

The artist was an Ethiopian-born Finn named Mirel Wagner, the album was her self-titled debut. It was one of the simultaneously sweetest and darkest things I'd heard. Contradiction? Of course, but that's what made it such a fascinating prospect. Songs like No Death and Red are haunting and desolate, but so honest. There's no deliberate attempt to make them like that - after all, there's only so much you can do with a voice and acoustic guitar - but they are naturally brooding and sincere. Her lyrics play their part, of course - sad tales of death, despair and dancing with the devil.

Last year, Mirel released the follow-up 'When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day'. While it benefited from a better, slightly more polished production, it was no less sombre in its mood. Death was still its central theme, but along the way Mirel takes on the character of an abandoned baby, and even tackles the class system, ultimately concluding that, whether you're a Lord or his servant, you're going to die in the end. We also get some added backing vocals, cello and piano making cameo appearances, but it's still for the most part voice and guitar. The album won the 2015 Nordic Music Prize, the first time a Finnish act has ever won the award.

You have to listen to Mirel Wagner's music through headphones with no outside distractions in order to get the most out of them. The songs are quiet but intense, sad but comforting, unsettling but compelling. I'm really looking forward to where she goes from here.


Here she is on French TV performing possibly the most sinister skipping rhyme ever written...

1 comment:

  1. Ellipsis, what a song, makes you just stop and listen.