(né/née en 1980)
Danish singer/songwriter Agnes Obel, born Agnes Caroline Thaarup Obel on October 28, 1980, took up the piano at a very young age, honing her craft amidst the strains of Bartok and Chopin emanating from the fingers of her musician mother. She later drew inspiration from the work of Swedish jazz pianist Jan Johansson, and it was between those two worlds that her own sound began to emerge. Citing influences as diverse as PJ Harvey and Claude DeBussy, and drawing comparisons to the likes Ane Brun, Eva Cassidy, and Joni Mitchell, Obel's 2010 debut, Philharmonics, was written (with the exception of a cover of John Cale's “I Keep a Close Watch”), performed and produced by the artist herself. Pure, austere, and remarkably poised, the pristine mix of instrumentals and atmospheric, melancholy balladry, was both a critical and commercial success, especially in her native Denmark, where the record went double platinum. Composed, produced, arranged, and mixed by Obel herself at Chalk Wood Studios, 2013's impressionistic Aventine was another commercial success, charting in nine countries. For her much anticipated third studio album, 2016's transparency-themed Citizen of Glass, Obel experimented with vintage synthesizers, as well as her own voice, which is at times heavily modulated. ~ James Christopher Monger
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 4, 2010 | Play It Again Sam
Agnes Obel's striking success in her home country of Denmark with her debut is all the more remarkable given how understated Philharmonics is as a listen, a seemingly straightforward piano/vocal album that isn't. Combining a strong ear for immediate appeal -- Obel's deep singing voice is lovely and her ear for a calm hook is crucial -- with a feeling of just-unsettled-enough unease is key. Part of it lies in Obel's ear for vocal arrangements; hearing her own overdubbed harmonies showcases her talents further, both as performer and producer. But there's something that's not trying to be straightforward here. There's an elegant, slipping darkness that creeps in around the corners, like something is being hidden in plain sight. The short instrumental "Falling, Catching" starts off the album on a sweet note -- perhaps sickly sweet, there's something so strangely focused in its intensity that it almost unsettles. Her first vocal provides a bit of necessary contrast on "Riverside" immediately thereafter, but at the same time further showcases how gently unusual Philharmonics ends up being -- it may not be Patty Waters, say, but it's not Vanessa Carlton or KT Tunstall either. The underpinning bass part on the cover of John Cale's "I Keep a Close Watch" set against the high intensity of the lead piano gives a good personal stamp to a standard, but it's her subtle variety throughout the album that impresses even more. There's "Avenue"'s music-box-meets-near-film-noir-jazz on the one hand, while "Louretta," another short instrumental, has a controlled theatricality that seems like it should soundtrack a Neil Gaiman ballet. "On Powdered Ground" has a gentler sweetness that feels like a slight respite toward the end, but Philharmonics in general aims for the darkly beautiful and succeeds on an unexpected level. ~ Ned Raggett
Alternative & Indie - Released October 21, 2016 | Play It Again Sam
Following the wonderful debut album, Philharmonics (2010), and the grandiose sophomore attempt, Aventine (2013), the latest album from Agnes Obel proves beyond a doubt that the Danish artist based in Berlin certainly isn’t resting on her laurels, determined to further evolve her unique musical style with Citizen of Glass. Obel has revisited a number of previous compositions and created some genuinely novel sounds with what is a clear (and successful) attempt to go deeper into the emotional heart of her music. On tracks like Familiar, for example, her haunting vocals are paired with none other than herself – and who’d have thought the result so beautiful. Bigger, and more nourishment than ever before for our musical hungers. Sound is like matter in this wonderfully orchestrated third album.
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