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Agnes Obel - Philharmonics

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Philharmonics

Agnes Obel

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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 /TiVo

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Philharmonics

Agnes Obel

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1
Falling, Catching
00:01:33

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

2
Riverside
00:03:48

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

3
Brother Sparrow
00:03:58

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

4
Just So
00:03:35

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

5
Beast
00:03:50

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

6
Louretta
00:02:05

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

7
Avenue
00:04:07

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

8
Philharmonics
00:03:33

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

9
Close Watch
00:04:00

John Cale, Composer - Agnes Obel, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

10
Wallflower
00:02:26

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

11
Over the Hill
00:02:48

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

12
On Powdered Ground
00:04:07

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

13
Smoke & Mirrors (Live in Copenhagen)
00:03:40

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

14
Katie Cruel (Live in Copenhagen)
00:04:47

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

15
Sons & Daughters (Live in Copenhagen)
00:04:31

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

16
Louretta (Live in Copenhagen)
00:03:20

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

17
Philharmonics (Live in Copenhagen)
00:04:01

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

18
Close Watch (Live in Copenhagen)
00:05:02

John Cale, Composer - Agnes Obel, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

19
Avenue (Piano Sessions)
00:04:05

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

20
Riverside (Piano Sessions)
00:03:47

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

21
Brother Sparrow (Piano Sessions)
00:03:57

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

22
Just So (Piano Sessions)
00:03:32

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

23
On powdererd Ground (Piano Sessions)
00:04:06

Agnes Obel, Composer, MainArtist

2010 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings 2011 Agnes Obel, released under exclusive license by [PIAS] Recordings

Album Description

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 /TiVo

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