Staring at you from the front of her album, all cheekbones, light blue eyes, braided blonde hair and crisp retro shirt, Agnes Obel is immediately captivating. The twelve tracks, showcasing Obel’s enchanting piano, haunting singing and mysterious lyrics, deliver fully on the promise of the cover. The award-winning album, produced and mixed by Obel, is certified double platinum in her native Denmark, and the deluxe edition contains a bonus CD with live tracks, new tracks and piano sessions.
At times sounding like a more sombre take on our own Lisa Crawley, Obel’s music has a rural sensibility (reflected in the album artwork of forests and taxidermied animals), that will be at home in the ears of New Zealand listeners. Friendly and fearsome animals roam through Obel’s fantastical landscapes, where beasts can be found without and within, and drowning is a recurring threat. The album is at once a challenge to make the most of life, and a plea to slow down and take pleasure from nature.
Obel luxuriates in the sounds of her words with little regard for their standard pronunciation, and has an interesting take on phrasing. While this means that the lyrics provided in the booklet are especially handy, it also gives her song an otherworldly dimension they wouldn’t otherwise have.
The one cover song, Close Watch, is delivered like the musical equivalent of a sob, and folk song Katie Crue’ could, with a little imagination, work as a balls-out rock song for a band like The Donnas. On Just So Obel sounds at times like Regina Spektor, on Louretta her melodies swirl over a bass-line of carnival piano in circles worthy of Philip Glass, on Avenue she sounds like a lonely Fiona Apple, and On Powdered Ground has a touch of Feist… but mostly Obel sounds like a new and slightly ethereal being, like the daughter of Hans Christian Anderson and a river-dwelling nymph.
After reaching the end of album, slipping the bonus second disc into the stereo is like waking from a dream, hitting the snooze button, and re-entering a mysterious world fraught with danger and filled with beauty.
Kathryn van Beek
Click here to listen to Riverside from Philharmonics: