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The great Townes Van Zandt once said there are two kinds of music: “The Blues and Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.” According to this, the debut of Mirel Wagner falls into the blues category. “Songwriting can hardly be more minimalistic, no-frills, more strict as Mirel Wagner’s sparse music,” wrote German Spex magazine, quite right.
Mirel Wagner was born in Ethiopia, and grew up in peaceful conditions in Espoo, Finland. The family name leads back to a German great-grandfather. At age 7 she was given violin lessons, at 13 she switched to guitar and at 16 she wrote her first songs (“To The Bone”, the album opener, is one of those early tunes) After a while she dared to join open mic events in Helsinki. People were surprised, interested and seemed to like it.
Jean Ramsay, an American music journalist living in Finland, came across her at one of these sessions. He was particularly convinced of her talent, raved about her in an early article and recommended her to others. So, without producing a demo and contacting record labels, she found herself sitting in a real recording studio. Aki Roukala, a photographer and friend of Ramsay offered to finance these recordings and to take care that the tapes secured a release. Over two days she recorded 12 songs straight. 9 of them can be found on her debut, which was first released in Finland in spring 2011, and now in Europe via 22-Pistepirkko label Bone Voyage Recordings (in North America it gonna see release through Friendly Fire Recordings, March 27).
Whether in Finland, France, Germany or UK, journalists who’ve been listening a bit closer are full of praise for this young, slightly different talent, who has seemingly appeared out of the blue with her otherworldly gloomy folk..
There’s not much you can hear on this debut. It’s an “empty” record – in the best sense:
A stoicly picked, almost trance-inducing acoustic guitar, a voice you wouldn’t expect to hear from a 23 year old and songs, which mostly avoid classical (folk) song structure (rather “lonely prayers in expressionistic language” Spex). Everything is stripped to the bone and maintains a beautiful, strangely fragile tension, even more so during her live performances. “The singer is majestic in her sobriety.” a French critic wrote. “She will literally knock you down with her candour and tenderness, captivating with her melodic charisma, wonderful and quiet. … Music from another time, fabulous and elusive .. ”
Equally consistent, as the ghostly mood floats through her album, her lyrics deal with really dark themes … necromancy, love, death and the devil. These are not happy songs. But Mirel avoids any overly theatric gestures and instead imbues her songs with a subtle lyrical grace, even when the songs are about dead lovers and equally dark topics. “Stark and poetic, with an echo of danger” wrote Uncut (UK) in their 4star review. Also 4/5 from Mojo (UK), who described her songs as “sparse, convincingly gothic, gender-flipping tales of the macabre”.
All of which begs the question: how can a young woman sound so sad? In an interview with the German Rolling Stone, Mirel said: “I think it’s a bit lazy to say that I make sad music. Of course you might say the lyrics are bizarre or dark. But for me, the songs are first and foremost filled with desire. And there’s this hope in them that love overcomes everything.
What I find sad is the soulless music that is on the radio most of the time, music that is simply product. If there is no life in it… is this not much sadder than a melancholic song?”