Nichole Wagner “Plastic Flowers”

Independent, 2024

A study in self-awareness and vulnerability from folk to power pop.

The gentle folk to power pop and rock all dusted with a sprinkling of Americana that runs through this record reflects Nichole Wagner’s career to date. Nearly a decade ago she left her Colorado home to try her hand on the Austin music scene. She honed her warm folky style at the city’s many open mic nights before going on to develop a more robust sound. An EP, full album and another EP tracks this musical path but her second album, ‘Plastic Flowers’, covers the full journey. But regardless of style Wagner’s writing is earnest and tends toward the melancholy. She takes a deep look at herself, family, relationships, much of which derives from the pandemic months. This is a record that definitely rewards attention and perseverance. First impressions are not enough to do it proper justice.  Wagner spans a wide range from Neko Case and Jenny Lewis to  Stevie Nicks.

Opener ‘Monsters’ goes back to the early days of the pandemic. Like so many others Wagner kept busy for a while but then overcome by the relentless drudgery she found it hard to ward off unwelcome past feelings. Like darkening clouds eerie chords gather around Wagner’s still determined vocals. “I’m so tired of running” leads to “There’s a different kind of monster out tonight”.

An ambling riff on ‘Raised by Wolves’ is the first hint that things may not be quite right. And they are not as here Wagner opens up about how she has always seen things differently to others. Subsequently revealed as neurodivergence, constantly being told that you are not “normal” must have been frightening and that sense of fear dominates sonically and lyrically summed up by, “I learned to gnash my teeth just to survive”. The title track is about Wagner’s therapy that involves writing a letter to herself looking at various relationships throughout her life. With so much to cover there is a feeling of space as she gives herself room to properly consider each one.

Wagner goes up through the gears for the high tempo ‘Self Defense’ a power pop recognition that trying again will not revive this relationship. It is better to “Let it come undone/ Instead of begging you to stay”. There are sone fine musicians on the album, guitarist Justin Douglas lets rip on ‘I Know Better This Time’ as does Charlie Pierce playing keys on ‘A Way With It’, a troubling account of dealing with addiction.

But on the less is more principle Wagner conveys as much, if not more emotion on the quieter songs. In the press notes Wagner describes ‘Beauty Where You Find It’ as “probably the closest I’ve ever written to a love song” as she relishes the moment without worrying about what comes next. The strings arrangements backing her simple acoustic guitar picking paint a beautiful backdrop to what certainly sounds like a love song. Co-written with Aaron Smith, Wagner goes back to Colorado with a tribute to her Grandpa Jim. In a voice exuding warmth, love as well as sadness at his passing, ’Road That Jim Built’ paints a lovely picture of his life and surroundings.

‘Plastic Flowers’ both brings together and advances Wagner’s blend of folk, pop and rock. We must hope there is more to come.

Plastic Flowers by Nichole Wagner


About Lyndon Bolton 143 Articles
Writing about americana, country, blues, folk and all stops in between
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