A band for all seasons
(especially the cold, hot, wet, dry ones)
By Greg A. Lohr
Last fall, in an article lamenting the “lean times” for modern music critics, The Guardian suggested that album reviews have been made unnecessary by the ease and speed of illegal downloading. Who needs a review? “If you want to know what an album’s like before release, you can probably find out for yourself.”
With a blend of chagrin and nostalgia, I’d tend to agree. Grooveshark, Youtube, Pandora, Spotify … take your pick of music purveyors. Hate the ads? Pay the fees, and the end result’s the same: You can have the tunes you want, anytime. All the time.
And yet … Easy access may have granted reviews more power, rendered them more personal. Written well, they’re a friendly introduction, a vouching-for in mafia style. “Dear readers, I’d like you to meet [so-and-so band]. I stamp my approval. I think you’ll agree.”
So it is in this spirit that I introduce you to Molly Wagger, a band of Scots. They got stuck in my head. They’re my most recent crush.
Molly Wagger is a 5-piece indie-rock group in their 20s, its members spread between England and Scotland, still working day jobs while also working on a follow-up to their debut album, Flambeaux. How would you recognize Molly Wagger in a sonic crowd? Listen for a quirky mix of real and electronic drums, a refreshingly restrained and un-ironic use of piano and strings and (perhaps most of all) the slightly nasal, rather warm and entirely earnest baritone of lead singer Charlie Denholm.
Flambeaux was released in July 2011 on Tirk Recordings. While the album didn’t garner widespread attention – Molly Wagger has yet to tour outside of the United Kingdom – it did earn some unabashed praise. British magazine Mixmag dubbed the album “a low-slung, post-rock gem.” Earmilk.com went further, calling the band an “electronic-folk outfit that will blow your mind.”
Stylistically, Molly Wagger’s songs can seem like distant relatives who’ve shown up somewhat sheepishly to their family reunion. You can see the resemblance, but they clearly grew up apart. As a whole, though, the tunes are both preternaturally mature and insidiously catchy, running the gamut from the chugging, two-chord electro-pop of “Able Mable” to the sultry ‘70s couch of “Weekend” and the ominous beauty of “Weight.”
In a struggle to pin the band down, however, critics often resort to describing Molly Wagger as one type of weather or another. Flambeaux is great summer music, they say, channeling the casual ease of listening to a young band already comfortable in its own skin. Or they focus on the more somber tracks, which, in the words of Finger Magazine, are “thoughtful songs with a streak of cold Edinburgh winter running through them.”
Denholm chalks up the seasonal descriptions to too-literal translations of the band’s emotional register.
“We’ve been referred to as autumnal music as well,” he says, adding that perhaps “it’s a reflection of us coming from Scotland, having the most unpredictable weather known to man. You can go from rain to wind to sun to rain to hail to snow to sun to thunder to breeze to ice to sun to rain in about an hour.”
Most members of the band now live in London (one could argue that’s not a huge weather upgrade). Lead singer Denholm shares a house there with two bandmates – his older brother, guitarist James Denholm, and bass player David Ayre. Drummer Charlie Johnson joins them in their garden shed for songwriting and practice sessions. The outlier is lead guitarist Edward Hulme, who still works in Edinburgh as a criminal defense attorney.
“I think once the big bucks start rolling in, then Ed will drag his carcass to London and we will conquer the world …” bassist Ayre says. “We’ve all got full-time jobs at the moment, ranging from boring to moderately interesting. Everyone reading this needs to buy our music and send us gifts in order to change this. You have the power.”
There could be more music to choose from soon. This summer, less than a year after Flambeaux came out, Molly Wagger began recording new material at London’s State of the Ark Studios, which has hosted the likes of Regina Spektor, Mumford & Sons, Badly Drawn Boy and Bombay Bicycle Club – heady company, considering the lads in Molly Wagger are still adapting to the regional limelight.
“I think part of what makes it such a good period of time [for us] is that you’re not used to having people write about your or contact you out of the blue to say they like your stuff,” Ayre acknowledges. “I suppose once a band becomes big, they get used to the praise and attention and perhaps tire of it. We’ve yet to experience that, but we’ll let you know if we ever do!”
Perhaps that’s reason enough to contact Molly Wagger if you like them – or to reach out to your own current musical crush. No matter how large they loom in your heart or mind, you never know what day jobs they’re working, what soggy gray skies they’re enduring.
And don’t forget to introduce them to your friends, dear reader. Vouch for their songs. These are lean times for reviewers, so it’s up to you. Just stamp your approval … and hope someone agrees.
Molly Wagger is:
David Ayre, 27 – Bass, vocals
Charlie Denholm, 24 – Lead vocals, keyboards and acoustic guitar
James Denholm, 27 – Guitar, laptop, vocals
Edward Hulme, 26 – Lead guitar
Charlie Johnson, 25 – Drums, vocals