Mirel Wagner, a singer-songwriter born in Ethiopia and raised in Finland, is 23 years old. When she wrote “To The Bone,” the opening track from her shivery self-titled album, she was 16. But her songs sound old as dirt. With an appropriate amount of crackle and hiss, you could easily pass them off as ancient, undiscovered acoustic-blues 78s. That’s partly because of Wagner’s voice, a still and spectral quaver that emphasizes every word just so and carries a hint of Billie Holiday’s soft intensity. And it’s partly because of the way she recorded the LP: Alone on an acoustic guitar, nine songs in two days. You can hear her fingers squeaking on the guitar strings, and I’m not pointing that out because it makes her somehow more authentic; it’s just part of the hushed, near-frightening intimacy of the album.
In the video for the unshakable first single “No Death,” Wagner sits glassy-eyed and almost motionless, picking out the song’s chords and absentmindedly singing the lyrics into dark nothingness, not moving a muscle more than she has to. A couple of times, I thought Vimeo was stuck buffering, but no; that’s just her. It’s a song about staying with a dead lover “till the marrow dries from her bones,” and Wagner herself sounds and looks near death as she sings it. There’s no emotional bloodletting on her record, no chest-beating displays of raw feeling. Instead, you’re left with the unsettling sound of a young woman expressing thoughts way bigger than her, almost as if she’s acting as a conduit for some old Lovecraftian darkness. It’s a heavy record, and it’s one that lingers.
01. “To The Bone”
02. “The Well”
03. “No Death”
04. “No Hands’
09. “The Road”
Mirel Wagner is out 3/27 on Friendly Fire.