Agnes Obel makes the most beautiful songs for dark autumn nights.
The music of Danish artist Agnes Obel seems to come from old rooms and instruments that people have left behind. It’s the sound of empty halls, open windows, darkness and dancing curtains. In my book there is simply no better music to spend an evening with this time of the year. Obel’s voice is both reassuring and disturbingly beautiful, especially when it’s manipulated to sound like a choir. She comes across as a whole orchestra, in reality she operates almost entirely alone: She composes the songs, writes the lyrics, plays the instruments and produces everything herself.
I discovered her, like many others, in 2010, when she released her debut album Philharmonics. That is, I discovered one particular song from that album, Just so, in a tv commercial and just had to find out who made it. I’m not the only one who reacted that way, the commercial contributed directly to Obel breakthrough, though I can’t for the life of me remember what it was about. The only thing I remember is Obel music.
Citizen of Glass, her third album which was released this year, is about being a transparent human being, that is a person we know practically everything about. It delves right into the surveillance society (I can’t stop thinking of Snowden documentary Citizenfour when I see the album title), but also about how we see ourselves in relation to others and to nature around us – and how nature looks at us. It is a fairly modern theme contrasted by the music itself, which seem to flow out of an old music box wounded up with new force.
It’s not entirely wrong, the part about the music box, as instruments such as harpsichord and spinet are regulars in Obel universe. She started playing piano at the age of six and grew up with a mother who was a concert pianist and a father who collected rare instruments. This time, she has included one of the oldest synthesizers in the world on her album, an instrument called a Trautonium, made in the 1920s. No wonder, than, that the entire history of music seems to unfold when listening to Obel’s songs. She’s often said that she is just as inspired by PJ. Harvey as Maurice Ravel, that she likes the films of Alfred Hitchcock and the ghost stories of Edgar Allan Poe. They all seem to figure in her enigmatic world, made up of both the ultra modern and the really old-fashioned, which is exactly what makes it so special.
Agnes Obel plays at Rockefeller in Oslo on November 8th.