VENTS MAGAZINE reviews LIVE AT THE MATTRESS FACTORY; Songs from the Land of Pit Bulls + Poker Machines

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Little Wretches Release Acoustic Live Album

Live at the Mattress Factory is one of the latest records by Little Wretches, a fascinating performer with plenty to say. Kicking off with the deceptively inviting Dark Times, it’s a song that looks forward by judging the present. Maintaining a critical eye on specifically political pundits and the shortcoming of artists and everyday people to stand up for what’s right, lead singer Robert Andrew Wagner’s voice really sells the disheartened tones, wonderfully punctuated by some astounding violin playing from David Maund. Each track has an intro that varies from half a minute to sometimes three minutes recounting a story, or an interaction between Wagner and the audience that helps enrich the experience. It removes some of the mystique for me personally as I like being able to unpack songs on my own, but plenty will find it interesting to hear what Wagner’s sources of inspiration were. 

Follow up track “Whether or Not you Like it” is an exploration of frustration with lines like “You feel like a ghost” and “You don’t even know what you’re doing”. Despite being an older gentleman, it’s the kind of accessible song for any age that I think will strike a chord most with younger listeners. It’s also a lengthy song with a lot to unpack, but luckily Wagner never wastes any breath and is in perfect control of the whole proceedings. There’s even a great nod to NBC that I won’t spoil and the ending emphasizes the existential terror of repetition that matches the dread of feeling stuck in place. Some of the best banter between Wagner and his audience comes from the set up to “Promised Land”. 

That track maintains a softer sound and brings back the strings that were absent after the opener. Using the initial framework of the 40-year parable of slaves escaping Egypt, the song becomes an almost Russian nesting doll on the effects of intergenerational trauma. Explorations of manhood, responsibilities, and how now the idea of the Promised Land lies in capitalistic gain. It carries a heavy-hearted sound that is rich, but it fumbles a little bit in its obvious comparison of work to slavery. 

The longest track, “The Remains of Magaroc” clocking in at eight minutes gets the most mileage out of recontextualizing a parable and continues on its themes of anti-capitalism. It argues that no matter how hard you work, the world can still be unrewarding and the disconnect between fellow men all trying to achieve the same thing only gets stronger and harder with time. The back half of the album staring around the track “Father’s Day” is where the record really starts to lighten up, and for good reason. It’s a joy to hear Wagner’s magnetic presence shift from the darker themes and tones to something more reminiscent of a chill hangout with friends. Ultimately, the album is a triumph of the integrity of humankind, and while long is an epic-length update of parables that we could use some reminding of these days, as we lose sight of empathy we desperately need. 

by Clay Burton

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