Review Summary: The same beauty, but this time with a bit more bite.
Agnes Obel is a wonderful Danish artist who has just released her third album Citizen Of Glass. The problem is that nowhere near enough people have heard of her yet, though this may all be about to change...
Agnes' musical career began in 2010 with the release of Philharmonics. The singer/songwriter/composer's debut album's combination of simple but ridiculously catchy melodies lead to a warm and embracing album. Most of the songs were laid back and stripped down being predominantly piano driven with one or two strings or plucked guitars thrown in for good measure. What followed was 2014's Aventine, which was a critics masterpiece. Aventine combined the simple piano and vocal lead melodies from Philharmonics but this time with grand orchestral tones added to the mix. The laid back, mostly major, feel of her debut was replaced by a sinister undertone amongst the up front beauty of her voice and piano. But why was this just a critics masterpiece and not a world wide smash hit? I guess it's difficult to market a modern classical folk singer songwriter from Denmark nowadays.
I think it's important to quickly touch on Obel's previous works so we can talk about why this album is both a bold step whilst remaining on her already well tread path. The album is still, on the whole, Obel's voice (more on that later) and mostly piano driven compositions. The radical change here however is that this time instead of the warm inviting strings accompanying her we have mostly subtle, hollow sounding electronic instruments. This change both continues the more haunting feel of her sound which has been developing during her previous albums whilst also making the album feel more modern. With this more up to date production guiding her it feels like Agnes Obel could now be about to get the recognition she deserves for her talents.
But I've gotten this far without mentioning her talents... so what are they then? Firstly, though I said she plays mostly simple melodies, it is clear Obel is a very accomplished pianist with a knack for writing total ear worms but what sets her apart from all others is her voice. Her voice is perfection with added reverb. She has always felt inviting and warm, making you desperate to hear what's coming next whilst hitting soaring high notes and surprisingly effective low sections too but now she's taken her vocal experiments to the next level.
This is best typified on the first two singles from the album 'Golden Green' and 'Familiar'. 'Golden Green' has piercing highs, unusual harmonies, a very effective low register pre-chorus and the most playful second verse you'll hear this year as Obel evokes her inner Kate Bush. 'Familiar' on the other hand uses vocal experiments of an entirely different fashion using that modern production to pitch shift her bridge down giving a bizarre but pleasing tone.
As with her first two albums this has been a grower for me, perhaps it was because I was expecting a follow up similar to Aventine which I adored, but since I've gotten used to the new style I just fell in love all over again. I wouldn't say there's a bad track in her discography so far but if I had to pick a few favourites from this album, I'd recommend listening to 'Golden Green' 'Stretch Your Eyes' and 'Familiar'.
If you give one artist you've never heard of a try during the rest of the year, make it Agnes Obel. There's little point begging you to listen if you've heard her previous work as you know you will.