What Agnes Obel has provided me cannot be quantified. She is an escape, more so than anything else I listen to. She doesn’t just fill me with visuals, she transports me completely. No matter where I am, what I’m feeling, she alters that reality to a place of wonder and peace. Loosely categorized as chamber pop, to me she sits inside her own bubble, or to quote Janelle Monae, one of only two or three artists I hold more dearly, “categorize me I defy every label!” Her instrumentals speak as loudly as her words, but in her case it’s intentional. Unlike most musicians, she credits the sounds she creates as being her main voice. Stating she often waits a long time to add words to her work; “The music is the most obvious means to express what I am, where I am.” This quote embodies her approach across all three records, and also represents the reason I am drawn to her with such affection.
Her debut LP, 2010’s Philharmonics, carries a heavy presence, and despite the seeming simplicity, I have a hard time explaining it. Much like another one of my favorite musicians, Mree, Agnes’ music could be most conveniently described as atmospheric. But the atmosphere is more than a feeling, she builds this world that you can’t help but get swept up in. The mood and pacing, while somber and slow, is never dull, which is a testament to Agnes’ ability to exhibit control in her sound, almost mechanical in her precision when it comes to both instrumentation and vocals. The fact that this expertise is displayed on her first record, proved she would be destined for a long and interesting career, and that her ceiling as a musician was a glowing question mark.
Just as she did with Philharmonics, Agnes begins 2013’s Aventine, her second LP, with an instrumental; hypnotic in it’s ability to draw you in, it’s a subtle introduction to ease you into the mood. This album shows an expanse in sound, despite a simplified creative process. Like the first, the melodies and vocals retain a steadiness throughout, but the blanket of sound extends much further, creating the illusion of a much larger soundscape. There is elegance in her patience, letting things unfold as they should rather than rushing to an arc, which wouldn’t be the case if she didn’t have absolute confidence in her vision. On Aventine, her sound instills an even stronger sense of curiosity, you want to know more, to see the story unfold, all the while stuck with the irony that the story is what you make it. My love of classical music plays a large part in my appreciation of this method, as I am drawn to the sounds that leave the story in my hands. The album is mesmeric, and despite it’s solemn beauty, never puts me to sleep, but rather awakens me, in the most soothing way. In addition, there are more than a few gems on the deluxe version, including the gorgeous instrumental “Under Giant Trees” and the brooding “Fuel To Fire” remix courtesy of the auteur of the dark and bizarre, David Lynch.
Where Aventine was built on the shoulders of its predecessor, Citizen of Glass has her embarking on a new sonic journey. Here, the bulk of her focus was on working with new sounds, rather than her traditional piano heavy melodies, a method that’s evident from the start. The result is just as entrancing, and even more unique. Her instincts as a musician are remarkably consistent, and her ability to harness feelings through sounds is still her strongest suit. One noticeable change, outside of the instrumental differences, is the subdued whimsy, and the allowance in the rise of a more sinister curiosity. She’s always had a hint of uneasiness to her sound, for instance, the first time I heard “Falling, Catching” off her debut Philharmonics, I likened it to exploring a beautiful abandoned home, but one with secrets buried in it, so despite the mysticism you feel roaming the halls and rooms, something else is lurking. However, Citizen of Glass exhibits a more consistent haunted-ness (ex. “Trojan Horse”).
To put it simply, there is no mood I am in that doesn’t allow for Agnes. Her music makes everything better. Her ability to conjure beauty seems infinite, and yet it never overwhelms. Though I gave it a shot in the above paragraphs, I can’t explain it. But then again, isn’t that what music does? Expresses feelings that words cannot? When I first created this site, the name I wanted to give it was Far Away Places, some of you who were around then may remember that as the heading. The title was due to Agnes, and where her music took me. At its best, that’s where music should take all of us. Art can be many things, but at it’s finest it is what makes this world as beautiful as it can be. While others have followed suit, delivering the unexplainable and otherworldly, Agnes, for me, is and always will be the master; the spark plug to my imagination, and a permanent fixture in my top five artists of all time.