Mirel Wagner, in her self-titled debut album, takes a minimalist approach to her music to create consistently captivating, haunting tracks. Wagner does not need complicated background melodies to make beautiful music; her strong, slightly husky voice and an acoustic guitar are enough. The simplicity in the sound allows the blues-folk singer’s writing ability to stand out, as she weaves dark, heart-wrenching stories into each song. The feebleness of life and its tragic moments are what this album focuses on, as Wagner questions relationships, family, religion and the value of living.
“To The Bone,” the opening track, finds Wagner singing, “Your love drags me down/Like the clothes when you swim/Down, deeper, down.” Like her album cover and video for “No Death” show, Wagner does not sugarcoat tragedy and suffering, a fitting tactic since her music is carved out of the folk and blues traditions. “No death can tear us apart/But death comes a sneaking in/Through the keyholes,” she sings on “No Death,” which recounts a tragic tale of motherhood.
This album is a solitary journey for Wagner both as a solo performer and as a storyteller singing about loneliness. The Ethiopian singer, who started playing violin at the age of 7 and switched to guitar at 13, has focused her debut on the realness of life. In an interview with German Rolling Stone, Wagner said that she does not find her music to be all that sad but instead finds sadness in “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?” This statement is one that holds very true in this album, as Wagner has poured her soul into recordings that may seem too mature for the 23-year-old but highlight the talent that Wagner has at communicating difficult subjects with ease and forming truly compelling songs.