Agnes Obel - Philharmonics (PIAS)

Debut full-length record from quietly bespoken Dane Agnes Obel hits all the right notes.

Released Oct 15th, 2010 via PIAS / By Norman Miller
Agnes Obel - Philharmonics (PIAS) Agnes Obel should be sponsored by the EU such is her European cosmopolitan perfection. A Dane with spells living in Copenhagen and the festival town of Roskilde, she now lives in Berlin but sings in English. Her stated musical loves are equally eclectic - Satie, Sonic Youth, Debussy, Dylan, PJ Harvey.

This debut album finds her ploughing a lovely furrow somewhere between Joanna Newsom and Stina Nordenstam, with nods to her Scandinavian compatriot Susanna Wallumrød (of Magical Orchestra fame) and the passionate intensity of Tori Amos.

Like all the above, Obel possesses a voice of spine-tingling beauty that she sets mainly against gorgeous piano backing on the dozen tracks here. The best tracks, though, add other elements to the stately-paced mix - gently plucked acoustic guitar on 'Just So', harp on 'Beast'.

The danger of going for the sort of sparse sound that dominates the album is that it can teeter into one-dimensionality but Obel manages to avoid this with telling little changes of pace and texture. The almost sprightly 'Beast', for example, contrasts with the beautiful melancholy of the first few tracks, best captured in the eerily gorgeous 'Riverside'.

Downbeat beauty, however, seeps into almost every note thanks to Obel’s delivery which sounds wistful even when set against more up tempo backings. So even the fairground-flecked keyboards that lift the instrumental 'Louretta' doesn‘t change the fact that it manages to sound jolly and sad at the same time, a quality it shares with 'Avenue' and the hypnotically beautiful 'On Powdered Ground'.

Graceful swoops and dips, meanwhile, suck the listener into tracks like the John Cale-cover 'Close Watch', the deceptively simple 'Over The Hill' and the almost jazzy instrumental 'Wallflower'. A perfect autumnal album.