When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day
Two years ago, Mirel Wagner emerged from Finland like a haunting ghost, bringing with her the sparse, folk storytelling that had long been forgotten. Her songs told darkly disturbing fairy tales of death and decay, all conveyed through only her raspy, alto voice and the soft strumming of her guitar. Her approach seemed simple enough, but the combination of the lo-fi production and Mirel’s hypnotic melodies resulted in one of the best folk albums of 2012.
When I first purchased Wagner’s latest release, When the Cellar Children See the Light, I worried that the sophomore curse would hinder all the elements that made her first album great. Would the songs sound as gritty with amped up production value? Would Wagner lose sight of the muse that inspired such intense songs as “No Death” and “To the Bone”?
It’s that time again – time to look back on all the great albums released this past year. 2012 has been filled with fantastic albums, and as a result, I’ve come up with a doozy of a list. You’ll find a variety of genres here ranging from rap to folk to metal to punk. No matter what type of music you enjoy (minus country) you’ll find something on here that you’ve either already been enjoying or music you should be enjoying. Whatever the case, enjoy!
The Amazing “Gentle Stream”
Bison B.C. “Lovelessness”
Crystal Castles “(III)”
The Evens “The Odds”
Lambchop “Mr. M”
Mind Spiders “Meltdown”
Pilgrim “Misery Wizard”
Lee Renaldo “Between the Times & the Tides”
Twin Shadow “Confess”
This year in music reminds me of the 2011 NBA Draft. There hasn’t been any stand out stars in the releases thus far, but there are a lot of quality albums on the cusp of greatness. Last year, I had no doubt about what albums would make my top five for the mid-year list, but this time around, I moved albums up and down the list indecisively for days, finally settling on the order below. My point: there could be a lot of shuffling when the real list comes out in December. Before getting into 20 albums that you shouldn’t miss out on, here are six honorable mentions that could easily end up being this year’s Jeremy Lin.
[Friendly Fire; 2012]
Recently, Netflix added episodes on their instant que of the VH1 show “Classic Albums,” chronicling seminal albums and providing insight into the creation of each masterpiece. I’ve watched several episodes over the past few weeks, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the insight that the show offers. Why VH1 buried it on “VH1 Classic” is beyond my comprehension. One of my favorite aspects of the program are the moments where the one time producer revisits the mixing board and walks the viewer through the elements that made the album so influential. To see Rodger Bain breakdown the greatness of Black Sabbath as a band on “Paranoid,” one track at a time, is truly an eye-opening experience (most underrated band of all time?).
On the Nirvana “Nevermind” episode, legendary producer Butch Vig discusses the unique process of recording the fragile “Something in the Way.” When unable to capture the instability that Cobain wanted on the track, Kurt came into the studio, laid on the couch, and performed the song for Vig the way he wanted it to sound. Upon hearing his whispered performance, Vig quickly rigged up a microphone above the couch and recorded the song in one take, with Kurt still on his back singing one of the most intimate moments in Nirvana’s brief history.
One element of this mix board analysis hit me the wrong way. After telling the story of how the track was recorded as Vig “…literally held (his) breath,” he then discussed how they went back and added a drum track, a cello, and backing vocals to the chorus. As much as I love the song as it is on “Nevermind,” I can’t help but feel the significance of the moment was tarnished by a bit too much tinkering.
I imagine the scene in the recording studio during the creation of Mirel Wagner’s debut self-titled album was a tad different. While I can definitely imagine the Ethiopian-Finnish singer-songwriter lying back on a couch while performing her unique brand of doom folk, there is never a moment on the album where it isn’t simply Mirel and her guitar. Instead of trying to make the songs jump out at you in emotional swells, producer Jürgen Handlmeier allows the echoes of the studio to create the euphoria. The result is an album that is barebones, honest, and chilling. The fact that the songs were recorded in only two days furthers the feeling that these tracks are capturing a moment, validating the authenticity found within each revealing lyric and squeaking pick of a guitar string.