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Before finding minor success as part of rambunctious party-punk outfit The Smith Street Band, Melbourne songwriter Wil Wagner cut his teeth as a solo artist as a teenager, playing a brand of acoustic folk that drew comparisons to the likes of Billy Bragg and Defiance, Ohio. 2013 sees Wagner make a brief return to his stripped down sound with solo acoustic EP ‘Laika‘.
Throughout eight tracks of brutally sincere, heartfelt folk rock, Wagner again takes cues from Bragg et al, but with a distinctly Australian feel – both in regards to his unmistakable accent, and subject matter that, for the most part, feels like it could be the conversation material of many 20-something Melbourne residents. Wagner generally sings about very human experiences; the relatability of his lyrics have long been one of the most appealing aspects of the musician’s catalogue, and ‘Laika‘ is no different.
That, however, isn’t to say that there isn’t something incredibly unique to this. There’s a sort of honest desperation that bleeds through in Wagner‘s heart on sleeve songwriting, especially in tracks ‘How They Made Us‘, ‘Malt Memories‘ and the brilliantly titled ‘More Like Signals Midbest‘. What’s more, title track ‘Laika‘ sees Wagner step away from personal experience and sing from the perspective of Laika, a.k.a. Little Curly, the dog Soviet space officials sent off to the stars back in 1957. The result? The most beautifully heartbreaking four and a half minutes to be found on the EP. If you aren’t reduced to tears by the time the lines “I don’t understand, cause I’m not as smart as them / But even a parachute would have shown that they cared” roll around, consider that your cue to openly weep – it’s okay. No one will judge, probably because they’ve likely done the same.
Musically, this is probably the singer’s most stripped down, barebones release – practically each song consists of quite simple acoustic chords over Wagner’s raw vocal style, occasionally featuring some light percussion, or the backing vocals or harmonica of wordy Tasmanian songwriter Lincoln Le Fevre, who also recorded and produced the record.
With ‘Laika’, Wil Wagner delivers a deeply personal, intimate record that serves as a firm reminder of why he’s one of country’s best songwriters. This stripped down solo outing feels so sincere it hurts, and the simplistic musical backdrop of an acoustic guitar and some percussion beautifully complements the raw, genuine nature of the lyrics. An impeccable release.
1. Eviction Notices
2. How They Made Us
4. More Like Signals Midbest
5. Malt Memories
6. Fuck You, Jackie
7. I’m Not Gonna Lie to You
8. Song About Why I Suck