Agnes Obel - Citizen Of Glass (PIAS)

Largely successful collection of gleaming audio beauty from Berlin-based singer-songwriter

Released Oct 16th, 2016 via Play It Again Sam / By Norman Miller
Agnes Obel - Citizen Of Glass (PIAS) Though not perhaps a household name, Danish singer-songwriter Agnes Obel sold over a million copies of her first two albums – Philharmonics (2010) and Aventine (2013) – while her songs have been streamed over 250 million times.

And if you like beautifully orchestrated, clever and reflectively bittersweet songs then icing on the cake is Obel's arrival in the UK for a quartet of late November dates as part of a European tour.

This latest album – recorded and produced by Obel in Berlin – takes its title from the German concept of the gläserner bürger - the glass citizen. “It’s actually a legal term about the level of privacy the individual has in a state,” explains Obel. “In health it’s become a term about how much we know about a person’s body or history - if they’re completely made of glass we know everything. There’s an increasing sense in this world that you have to make yourself a bit of glass. To be willing to open up, use yourself as material.”

While her earlier work gloried in delicate slow-tempo beauty, Obel generally fills out her sound here, upping the sense of percussive drive across most of the tracks. That, however, is largely driven by instruments like cello, double bass and violin rather than anything as crude as drums/drum machines – as captured in its purest form in the instrumental Red Virgin Soil.

Obel's gorgeous vocals have moved on too, with songs drawing parallels with some other distinctive contemporaries. The hooky opener Stretch Your Eyes and sprightly Golden Green, for example, finds Obel combined her vocal purity with the distinctive trill of Jesca Hoop, while the torchsong quality of the seductive It's Happening Again and the title track could be Lana Del Rey given an injection of rich strings and toy-like piano.

There's an air of dusty, blues-tinged country to the mournful Stone with its gently-plucked strings, contrasting with the urgent surge of Trojan Horses.

Sometimes Obel gets the mood thing not quite right – teetering too close to swooning gush on Mary, and getting a little too poppy on Familiar (love the cello, though).

“I worked with the title to push myself to do new things,” says Obel. “To push the glass theme throughout the songs in different ways – in the lyrics, in the instruments - to do things in a very new way. As an album, it feels bigger to me, a lot bigger.” Even when she doesn't quite hit the mark, Obel's music shimmers with gleaming audio beauty.