Review Summary: Howling familiar tunes under the moonlight.
Leave Agnes Obel in the middle of a forest at night and I swear she'll find her way home in half the time a crescent moon takes to ascend to her position as the night's muse. Few songwriters can read and channel the magic of Nature with so little: A cello or two, a violin here, a piano there, and on top of it all, Obel's whimsical voice endlessly replicated with an army of vocal doppelgangers.
It's a simple formula, although in Obel's case, it has always been executed with pristine dexterity and it has worked wonders for her since its first early iteration, which can be found in her second album, Aventine
, released back in 2013. Her sophomore work was an album that presented Obel not only as an extraordinary composer with a rich classical background, something that her debut, Philharmonics
, showed in spades, but also as a gifted performer and a perfectly fitted producer capable of providing her own studio works with a unique identity. In Aventine
, her music was ostensibly humble. Using just a few string instruments she was able to build a whole kingdom of sounds, playing masterfully with silence, and giving space to her nourishing singing to become an unescapable lullaby. Few years later, Citizen of Glass
took this formula to the next level. Obel showed enormous growth both as a songwriter and as a producer, with enrapturing tracks like "Familiar" or "Stone" captivating music critics all over the world and granting her a long-deserved success.
With her latest release in mind, the Danish songwriter had two options: turning the helm 180 degrees in search of unchartered land with all the risks that such an endeavor would imply or keeping course through, excuse the pun, familiar
waters with a new collection of songs that would sound, without a doubt, like Agnes Obel. Few seconds into the opening track will swiftly answer this dilemma. Myopia
is an Agnes Obel album through and through.
In choosing to stay faithful to her sound she has paid the price of producing a new album that shows little to no evolution of her craft. Those curious about what Obel could have built on top of the success of Citizen of Glass
will be thoroughly disappointed by the absolute lack of experimentation in Obel's fourth release. Myopia
plays it safe, if anything working as the night to the day that was Citizen of Glass
. Similar runtime, same number of tracks, and almost identical structure, with two-minute instrumental interludes strategically positioned for ear cleansing between the longer, voice driven tracks. Even "Broken sleep" feels like a mirror to "Familiar" in a way, being also the second track and flourishing with the same magnificence as her fan favorite.
"Camera's rolling" is a wonderful opener, displaying Obel's vocal acrobatics stretching through different layers of her voice while whispering a melody strangely reminiscent of Thom Yorke. In the backdrop, a skeletal percussion and a menacing violin fill the air like a tide coming in and out of the spotlight until it passes to the album stand-out and first single, “Broken sleep”. It’s in this track where one can see clearly that Agnes Obel has already found her sound, and free from the anxiety of those artists who haven’t done so, she relishes in her craft with enviable self-confidence.
"Island of Doom" closes the first section with one of the very few surprises of Myopia
. In the chorus, the singer experiments with a different pitch, but it feels a bit unnatural, artificial, and it becomes more and more grating the more it plays. In contrast, "Island of Doom" features one of her best lyrical works, whose often cryptical themes surface throughout the rest of Myopia
: death, night, darkness and solitude.
Both the title track "Myopia" and "Broken sleep" feature the work of cello players Charlotte Danhier and Kristina Koropecki, as well as violinist John Corban; guest musicians who also played a vital part in several tracks of 2016's Citizen of Glass
and that are also part of the reason why Obel's sound has stayed practically untouched in the last seven years.
The three interludes, "Roscian", "Drosera" and "Parliament of Owls" are short neoclassical pieces in the most orthodox way, and even if their inclusion help the album to flow gracefully, they wouldn't stand out as single tracks when compared to the works of other contemporary composers of the same category. "Promise keeper" and "Won't you call me" form the last section of Myopia
. The former being conducted by a softly hammered piano note while Obel shapes words in her usual magical way before whistling them like she is howling to the wind. The closing tune almost has a bluesy vibe, slightly different from her usual style, which would explain this last album being released by Blue Note instead of Belgian label Play It Again Sam, which had published her previous two albums.
As it stands, Myopia
is a solid entry in Agnes Obel's discography, an album that displays the best side of this peculiar artist and that will undoubtedly satisfy the expectations of those longing from new music from her. Given time it might even unveil aspects only reachable after scratching the surface long enough to be able to venture deeper into the strangely alluring worlds Obel is able to create with only her voice and a few strings in tow. Only time will tell, maybe to just the chosen few willing to howl with her to the year’s end.