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Furrows: Fisher King
by George Graham
(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/12/2022)
The technology which has brought a virtual recording studio onto a laptop in someone’s bedroom has caused a proliferation of one-person bands in the post alternative music scene. And with the pandemic restrictions, that has sped the process. This has the advantage of allowing the artist a greater degree of control and perhaps makes the music more personal. But on the other hand, it can eliminate the collaborative process that creating music in a band setting allows, and which can lead to exchanges and fusing of musical ideas, which many of the great bands provided.
This week, we have another one-person band, with the songwriter playing most of the instruments, but he has a couple of collaborators. Still, it’s a very personal record. The name of the project is Furrows, who is Peter Wagner, and the new release, his first full-length album, after a 2019 EP, is called Fisher King.
Peter Wagner has an interesting back-story. Born in College Park, Maryland, his home-life was very academic, with his mother working as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary, and his father a law professor. When he was four, Wagner’s parents moved to Germany with him, where his father taught law, but their marriage fell apart. So young Peter was shuffled back and forth between his geographically separated parents every two weeks. Music provided a source of solace, and he took up jazz-style guitar, and eventually attended the Berklee College of Music, and also attended the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan. But he found that he was not suited for jazz, and gravitated into the alternative rock scene.
Along the way, he moved a lot, starting a band in Brooklyn, only to have the other members move to Toronto. He is currently living in Baltimore and that is where he made his new album as Furrows.
Furrows’ music tends to be somewhat atmospheric, with folky acoustic guitars, and impressionistic, sometimes inscrutably poetic lyrics. The music evokes artists going back to the psychedelic era like Donovan or some of John Lennon’s solo material. Wagner’s high airy tenor voice, almost always double-tracked on the album adds to the ethereal quality. His academic training also comes through on the compositions that can be harmonically and rhythmically sophisticated in the context of the airy sound. On the album he is most frequently joined by drummer John Nellen, and a violinist and a cellist make a couple of appearances. But mostly it’s Wagner on the guitar, keyboards and bass.
Opening is a piece called Capernaum, which is the name of a biblical village on the Sea of Galilee. The impressionistic lyrics have nautical references, in the context of the spacey musical setting. The string players add to the gossamer quality. <<>>
A track called Your Village is one of the more interesting on the album, with its tuneful but melancholy quality. <<>>
With a bit more of a rock texture is Grey Cities which makes reference to lost love and also makes good use of the music’s wispy quality. <<>>
Burial also evokes some of the psychedelic era in both its musical arrangement and the somewhat inscrutable lyrics. <<>>
Mirrors continues with Furrows’ melodic but introspective quality with the folky acoustic guitar taking center stage, eventually leading to a multifaceted arrangement with the strings making another appearance. <<>>
Wasteland was inspired by T.S. Elliot’s lengthy poem called The Waste Land. The musical setting is again a kind of melodic rock with a melancholy undercurrent. <<>>
Caught Adrift was inspired by Wagner’s nomadic childhood life, having to divide his time between his parents in Brooklyn and Baltimore. <<>>
Fisher King the new debut full-length album by Furrows, the nom de musique of Peter Wagner, is a pleasing recording of contemplative pop, influenced by a smattering of folk, the psychedelic days and more contemporary alternative artists. The music has a decidedly atmospheric quality, with the poetic and sometimes cryptic lyrics delivered in Wagner’s vulnerable-sounding vocals. The compositions are well done and have decidedly more musical substance than one might expect.
Our grade for sound quality is about a B-plus. Sometimes the atmospheric quality leads to murky sound, and lyrics that are hard to understand – and the album does not come with a lyric sheet, nor could I find one posted by the artist on the web. And the dynamic range is mediocre at best, though that is not a great hindrance for this kind of music.
Pandemic or not, the era of one-person bands is upon us, and though Peter Wagner, also known as Furrows has some help on his new release, this is very much a personal album and it definitely exudes that intimate quality. It’s an impressive record.
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