Yesterday saw the release of Old Ideas, the twelfth studio album from French-Canadian rock legend Leonard Cohen. (That seems both like a lot of records, and not enough, somehow.) It’s streaming right now on NPR, and you should absolutely go listen to it if you’ve ever had even a passing interest in the guy’s work. His singing is mostly creaky spoken word by now but that’s the lure, the unimpeachable sound of wisdom earned. Lucid, heartbreaking, end-of-life thoughts from an old folk master.
But, in thinking about the old Leonard Cohen, and the young Leonard Cohen, I came upon the video for “No Death” from Ethiopian-born, Finland-based singer Mirel Wagner, which also hit U.S. sites yesterday (though her album was released overseas on a small Finnish label last year). Singing in stark terms about a dead lover, Wagner’s dark and minimal version of folk has the rich, simple potency of Cohen in his youth. (Compare that to this Cohen cover by Cults which seems to miss several points simultaneously.) Now, Wagner’s song doesn’t have the twinkly-eyed narrative charm of his old records, but Cohen never really sang like this, either.
Wow. Not exactly the cheeriest of sentiments to get you out the door on a winter Wednesday morning, but commanding rapt focus using very little in the way of elaborate production or flashy imagery is a rare power indeed. The video’s last seconds are a fitting image: eyes glaring out from near total darkness, refusing to break contact, finally blinking as the song fades. Wagner’s self-titled record is being released domestically on March 27th, through Friendly Fires, and is now circled with a bright red line.