Mirel Wagner, When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day

Peter Blackstock

By Peter Blackstock

on 08.12.14 in Reviews
Deeply affecting minimalism from the darkness of Finland

After a stark self-titled 2012 debut that earned widespread attention beyond her home country of Finland, Mirel Wagner moves up to Sub Pop but keeps the approach resolutely spare on her second record. Everything revolves around Wagner’s arresting voice, which cloaks her songs in a dark mysticism; she forsakes all ambitions of straight pop as she pushes toward a deeper, more primal connection. “One two three four, what’s underneath the floor?” she inquires in the first line of the first song, which faintly echoes the harrowing minor-key murmur of the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs.” There may be environmentalist overtones in “The Dirt,” which advises that “you can’t drink the dirt, even if you wanna,” but Wagner’s final dig is much more personal: “You’ll be in the dirt — you’ll be the dirt.” A subtle undercurrent of cello provides exquisite accents to “Ellipsis,” but the vast majority of the album is just Wagner’s voice and guitar. A comparatively brighter musical passage arises in the two repeated ringing chords of “In My Father’s House,” but the spell is never broken — not even on the concluding “Goodnight,” a lullaby that will haunt any notion of sweet dreams.