[sic] Magazine

Mirel Wagner – When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day

Mirel Wagner writes spectral folk music and, recalling Leonard Cohen at his most minimal and bleak, her self-titled debut promised much. Ethiopia-born, Helsinki-raised and library-taught, Wagner fascinated as much as she impressed on that debut and though its successor, the unbelievably dark When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day, is “more of the same” as she puts it, it’s also much more. Better recorded and better written, it’s just better in every department – no mean feat at all.

Already a master of timeless song-craft, Wagner breathes personality into the decades-old via lyrical dexterity. She flips questions into emphatic statements on the pin-drop atmospherics of “What Love Looks Like” and toys with metaphor on “The Dirt”, switching up her lines during the bluesy and forceful track: “you’ll be in the dirt / you’ll be the dirt”. Her songs come from strange places too. The absolutely classic-sounding “Oak Tree” is told, for example, from the perspective of a buried corpse, Wagner multi-tracking herself against ghostly moaning and an unstoppable wave of emotion. And then there’s her arresting voice. Normally whispery yet determined, she finds an angry balance between desperation and love on “Taller Than Tall Trees”, half-shouting, half-pleading her way through the spellbinding tale.

She’s more confident in her sparse arrangements now too. Electric slide guitar adds real depth early on, while Scottish composer Craig Armstrong plays mournful cello on “Ellipsis”, as well as heartstring-tugging piano on the album closer, “Goodnight”. The former is cold, outdoorsy, elemental even, welling up during its close like Johnny Cash’s magical cover of “Hurt” while the funereal waltz “Goodnight” conjures Othello’s famous words: “put out the light, and then put out the light”. It’s as black as they come and that’s from an album with an Edgar Allan Poe fixation and a song about rotten tongues.

When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day is big and bold. It’s an unmitigated success too. In places there are shades of PJ Harvey, others align it with last year’s excellent Waxahatchee and Torres records, but Wagner has created something unique all the same … and not just because of that Fritzl-baiting title.

Best tracks: “Oak Tree” and “The Dirt”

~When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day is released August 11th 2014 on Sub Pop.~