Monday, February 23, 2015
Pitstop: Agnes Obel
One of the things I did in my early days of music blogging was sign up for a bunch of mailing lists for a bunch of New York City venues. Sure, some venues already add you on a mailing list if you buy tickets online to go to them (looking at you Bowery Presents) but I welcomed what some what see as annoying intrusion. Or I did at the time. The idea behind it being that I would totally use it to keep up on shows happening I might otherwise miss (I haven't) or find artists I might not have seen (I didn't). While I'm too lazy to unsubscribe from the majority of these mailing lists I did finally find an artist exclusively through an email sent promoting hers and other shows at Le Poisson Rouge. Enter Berlin based Danish songstress Agnes Obel.
While I couldn't make it to her show I found that the name had managed to stick with me. Something about the combination of its symmetry as well as the press photo used - Obel in profile silhouetted in red (the album art for her latest album Aventine) seemed to stir something in my very core. You want to listen to this. Obel's music manages to be at once totally straight forward and yet totally hard to classify. A classically trained pianist, Obel's music seems to reflect this (especially in her instrumental turns) while there's a definite push for a pop-like accessibility. As good as they are, Obel has more to offer than lyrical piano-driven ballads. While piano and Obel's vocals always maintain the main focus and in impresively equal measure, Obel allows a bit of orchestral flourishes on the new album and songs like "Dorian" and "Aventine" manage to show her pivoting from the occasionally folk-inspired turns of her debut album Philharmonics to her more seriously plotted nascent art-pop of Aventine while still retaining at last the hint of pop momentum.
And yet, on Aventine Obel's music retains a pervasive introspection - melancholic at times, merely contemplative at others. It's hard to label Obel a pop artist when the music is so definitively solemn. In that regards Obel has more in line with artists like Efterklang and Sigur Rós - much more content to just make the music they want to with little thought for what to actually call it. Not only does Obel strengthen her songwriting chops but she also refines her creative process in a way that's totally genre-blurring.
The most exciting thing about Agnes Obel is that she's knows either consciously or instinctively that in order to avoid stagnation there needs to be more happening than merely being beautiful or catchy and in her own quest for interesting musical routes provides music that's engaging and rewarding to listen to while also offering these things. Obel is the kind of artist that you can count on to evolve from album to album and while her current output is endearing an solid, I'm intrigued at the possibilities.