Agnes Obel



European label Play It Again Sam hosts an impressive array of artists who all create music in different veins and styles (from Dinosaur Jr. to Sigur Rós, from Mogwai to Michigan's own Lord Huron). However, the artists under PIAS all seem to represent grandiose, maximalist examples - one could stretch so far to even define it as archetypal - of their respective genres. Agnes Obel, a Danish singer-songwriter based in Berlin whose 2010 debut Philharmonics received resoundingly positive international critical reception is no exception to this phenomenon.

Obel pens sparse, eerie piano-driven songs that possess monochromatic atmospheres. The sounds of her second record, Aventine, are dusty and creaky, and the lyrics are often about death or leaving in some capacity. What's remarkable about these songs, though, is that out of this seemingly dark hole Obel has entrenched herself in, a sense of hope is buried in the heart of it. Glowing softly, like a single candle in the windowsill of a decrepit house in a wintry forest seen from afar, we are drawn into the chilling piano melodies, the hushed backbeats, and of course Obel's gorgeous (and on occasion, spectral) vocals. 

The phrase "hauntingly beautiful" is so often used as a crutch descriptor of work like this. But Aventine is not hauntingly beautiful like Grouper is, with the scratchy tape hiss and indeterminable lyrics woven in, devoid of any hope or rebirth; no, Aventine is hauntingly beautiful not only because of the stark minimalism of its compositions, but because of the moments when Obel overcomes her own nightmares and transforms into an ethereal symphony leader with the help of violins, cellos, and even a harp.

Recommended Tracks: #3 "Dorian", #5 "Run Cried The Crawling", #7 "The Curse"

Sigmund Steiger 

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