“Life... A Seven Day Journey” - Mike Wagner EP Review
If you live outside KZN, there’s a chance that you may not have seen this multi-talented young musician live. I first became aware of Mike as the hyper-energetic drummer for Freddy Lalendle’s former outfit, The Subway Run. Since then, Mike has been focusing on his own songwriting and “Life... A Seven Day Journey” is the result of these efforts. Upon first listening to the EP, there’s a warm familiarity to these songs, but not in the sense that they make you think of something else. It’s more like the feeling you get when you meet someone for the first time and yet feel am instant bond with them, like you’ve been friends since childhood. You understand this music in your soul. There’s not a single weak track one this EP, yet it is by no means bombastic or overwhelming. Rather, it is very much like the cover design (also by Wagner, by the way): subtle, but strong. Mike is a multi-instrumentalist. As I mentioned, he used to be a drummer, but as a solo act, his main focus is acoustic guitar and kickdrum. But he’s outdone himself on this release: these songs were all written by Mike. And, barring the bluesy guitar solos on Let Them Go (contributed by Tyler Hale) and the female backing vocals on Face of Light (added by Amy Wagner and Kirsten Hunneyball), he played all of the live instruments himself. All. Of. Them. Drums, piano, guitar, synths... He did all of the vocals. He did the cover art. He is even credited as co-producer alongside Warren Meyer who’s expertise Mike claimed “got all of [this] out of me”. This EP is a pretty phenomenal achievement. When it comes to the tracks, there’s a coherent narrative woven throughout these seven songs, spanning a lifetime of love, from the initial meeting, the uncertainty, the wavering, the standing up for love, the commitment, the bumps in the road threatening to derail us, then recovery, all the way to the ultimate end • “Be Yours” introduces us to Wagner’s warm vocals and features perfect embellishments in the form of a few simple xylophone notes that really embody the feeling of falling in love; a few trumpet notes towards the end that feels like your heart swelling at the thought of someone... Furthermore, there are gorgeous accompanying ambient guitars – a thread that weaves throughout the EP and binds the narrative together. There’s not a single thing out of place here. • “Carry On” is a well-crafted song that starts out with a hint of 80s pop, but quickly develops into something modern (perhaps somewhat reminiscent of Bastille or Phoenix). This track deals with the indecision perhaps caused by a fear of rejection where both parties just carry on as usual. • The turn-around happens on “Let Them Go” – a soulful foot-stomper – when a third person enters the scene and the narrator has to make a choice. • The soaring ambient guitar comes back on “Face of Light”, the hopeful spirit-lifter. The internal conflict and the external opponent is faced, and he stands up to fight for the love he believes in. • The best word I can think of to describe “Someday”, is “exalted”. We’re properly flying now. Understandably. You can just picture someone running at full speed along a mountain-top, and launching themselves off the crest, floating away on pure euphoria. • But, what goes up, must come down... Things don’t necessarily go according to plan, or our best intentions. “This Time” really emphasises Wagner’s fantastic voice with a falsetto part that will give you goosies. • And yet, anyone who is among the living has hope… As the narrator finishes his part of the tale and says his “Last Goodbye”, while she remains behind and has to move on. The emotional rises and falls on this 25-minute EP are expertly spaced and planned, so much so that the end and beginning even line up perfectly – ideal to put on loop ;) I truly believe it is just a matter of time before Mike Wagner has his break and becomes a household name across South Africa and, hopefully, across the globe. Don’t get left behind – be that person who can say, “I’ve seen him before he was a superstar!” and support him on his way there. You have a chance to do just that this Saturday (6 October), when Mike is on the opening line-up for Jeremy Loops at the Durban Botanical Gardens (tickets are running out!) If you did read about Mike Wagner on Fort Hey today for the first time, you definitely need to keep an eye on him and get yourself to a live show. I predict wonderful things for this great musician. “Life... A Seven Day Journey” was recorded, mixed and masterfully produced by Warren Meyer (and Mike Wagner) at Doppler Studios.
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