Andrew Wagner – Thank You, But Our Princess is in Another Castle

Andrew Wagner
Thank You, But Our Princess is in Another Castle

Damn that voice sounded familiar. It took me two or three listens before I figured out what band he sounded like, and then my hunch was validated in checking Wagner’s liner notes. Formerly the guitarist and singer for the math-rock band Idiot Savant Garde, it was suddenly much easier to place Wagner’s unique music. See, all you have here is Wagner playing an acoustic guitar and singing, but this is not your traditional Bonnie Billy / Bob Dylan folk-influenced singer/songwriter. Instead, Wagner approaches every song as if he’s still playing for an up-tempo math-rock band.

Wagner plays his acoustic guitar in unique time signatures, often changing signatures throughout a song and mixing strumming chords with rapid note progression. Every time I hear a person playing acoustic guitar so quickly and precisely, I’m reminded of classical guitar, and while the chiming tones of those instruments aren’t here, Wagner plays with that kind of precision. He’s a phenomenal guitarist and a unique one, and coupled with his unique, warm voice, these songs transcend simple singer/songwriter definitions.

The album kicks off with the instrumental “The Archduke Descends Upon Me,” a song with so many rapid fire notes that it sounds almost classical. I swear there are too many guitar parts on “Mating Song of the North American Dork” for just one man, and I find myself paying little attention to Wagner’s lyrics and to the guitar instead. Softer and more flowing, “Your Penmanship is Deplorable” allows things to calm down a bit, putting the vocals more to the fore, and “Paradoxing” feels a bit more familiar, with more chord progression than rapid-fire notes. But it’s songs like the impressive “My Year as a Grouch” that brings everything together: intricate and strong guitar playing and Wagner’s flowing vocals, that really make this an excellent album.

At times, however, the songs on this, Wagner’s first full-length release, do tend to sound very similar, leading me to think perhaps that he’s overloaded it. By “An Allergic Reaction,” what appears to be an autobiographical story, I tend to focus less on the impressive guitar and more on Wagner’s voice. As if to remind you, he spreads various intricate instrumentals throughout the album, and they sound not so much like acoustic noodling as classically themed works. There are still the more rock-sounding tracks, like “To Sweat the Synapse” and “Do the Staccato.”

As on the Idiot Savant Garde album I reviewed, there is a feeling here that the style of music is more than simply complicated math-rock. It’s almost as if Wagner is embracing a kind of nerdiness that leads him to lyrics like “manipulating the etch-a-sketch, amortizing the penny-a-liner, hammering out new identifiers until you’ve explained that person into your lexicon” from “Your Penmanship is Deplorable” and “measure for measure, this music permeates through stale vacuum-sour air, a path of entropy and dissonance dispersed to dissidents who’ve long since spat on radios” from “To Sweat the Synapse.” There’s no apology for his verbose nature, which matches his verbose guitarwork. It appears that Wagner is formulating his own sub-genre, and it’s one that bears repeated listens, if not for his complex lyrics, than for his intricate, impressive guitar playing.