A central figure in Austria’s new wave of rock, singer-songwriter Rainer Wagner has been building his musical repertoire for years. A defined and evolving talent, his sound lies deep in the heart of elemental rock, combining traditional sounds with a dizzying maelstrom of soul and funk flourishes to create what he calls, ‘soul rock’. Backed by his talented band of Gregor Huber, Michael Fink, Moritz Holy, and Max Legat, Rainer created Wagner The Band as a way to further explore the soul rock landscape, pushing it’s boundaries and tracing its features with a debut album, ‘Awkward Hearts’.
A captivating mix of soul, funk, blues and elemental rock, ‘Awkward Hearts’ is built to recapture the sound of the American greats, offering rough-cut slices of timeless instrumentation and poignant lyrics all about life’s more ethereal subject, love. With the release of the first single, ‘Beast of Joy’, the world was introduced to Wagner The Band as an energetic funk-rock fusion, but as the album proves, there is far more beneath the surface.
Wearing its influences proudly, ‘Awkward Hearts’ revels in a bygone era, bringing a nostalgic rock edge to the fore in each and every track. Textured rhythms flow throughout and Rainer’s vocals power through every note with seamless transitions, offering both power and delicacy. Opening cut ‘Beast of Joy’ teases a more funk-infused sound, but is soon left behind in the wake of ‘Dream Girl’ and ‘Right In Front Of Me’, two emotive tracks that cut far closer to heartfelt soft-rock than anything else. It’s not until fourth track ‘A Good Lie’ that the hybrid funk sound returns, offering a confusing detour in the album’s flow.
The title track returns to the moody, slow-burning sound, washing over the upbeat energy of its predecessor, and the same issue arises again, causing the album to stutter until we’re finally treated to ‘A Foreigner’ and ‘Lonely In Space’, a damning and wonderful duo of tracks that push the tempo and give the album some grit, but even then the sound doesn’t hold. Ending on a dwindling emotional roll, the album fades to silence under the spell of ‘Today’ and ‘Lover’s Mind’, two perfect illustrations of Rainer’s abilities as a singer and songwriter.
Inarguably, there is a talent aplenty on show in ‘Awkward Hearts’, and Rainer has covered a huge amount of ground in just eleven tracks, but their shifting focus and sound makes for uneasy listening, and after a few plays you find that the best way to experience each song is in isolation, tearing it away from the overarching complications. An album that offers plenty of intrigue but fails to capitalise on it, ‘Awkward Hearts’ is ultimately a very fitting title.
You can stream the album above on Spotify, or on other major platforms here.