25 February 2015

Agnes Obel - Philharmonics

Some songs stick with you, some you can't let go, some you play to death, and there are some that reach you from all sorts of places. I first heard this classical trained Danish artist on a KLM YouTube video of an airliner's final flight to Amsterdam, it was also the captain's last too, and her song Riverside was featured in it. Well, it was heavily remixed into a trancey number I'm ashamed to admit, but so captivated by its charms I just had to find out what it was with my mobile's TrackID app. Then thankfully I heard the original stripped-of-its-fittings version, and must confess I loved it much more. Even though I've been brought up on milk and metal (progressive largely), I will concede that I always have a soft spot for some classical pieces.

So the prudent looking Nordic chanteuse on the sleeve? Agnes Obel hails from Copenhagen and no surprises that she was brought up in a large musical family, where her mother was well rehearsed on the piano, her father had accrued some curious musical objects from all over the world. She has also has had it ingrained in her not to play what she doesn't feel comfortable with, and in her debut outing Philharmonics on first impressions it certainly suggests that. Apart from the time it's taken to record, six years seemingly, I can guess that there were no time constraints. Hopefully a good move.

Add. Simplify. I can't remember if it was an advertisement that carried that slogan of which this policy may have been applied, but with Philharmonics, I really don't think it's so simple, and possibly thus the recording length. Still, the first good plus point, and Miss Obel has a welter of good points here, is her voice. Very distinctive, and very sultry, her hushed tones are very bewitching, and deceivingly multi-layered. Second is to be found in her songwriting. She's clearly applied much TLC from pen to microphone to mixing desk which brings me straight onto the third point. The recorded outcome. It's a beautifully crafted piece and it just brings everything together beautifully.

Philharmonics is not the hardcore classical piece that I was expecting. Yes, it is at a minimum, but first track, Falling, Catching has such a captivating hook I feel on first listen that I'm sold. Then, it's that original track I heard on YouTube, Riverside. The harmonics, the rhythm are just so bewitching, it's my guess this track was always destined to be the showpiece on the album. All other tracks are good at best, but this is just on a far higher level. Where I said it wasn't so simple is on the next number, Brother Sparrow, which I find has smacks of Simon and Garfunkel folk traits. It's another track I find so enlightening aside from the classical guitarwork and the same note layered vox.

Interesting introduction in Just So, it feels like it's replicating a nursery rhyme, and again, very spartan instrumentation but you do have to peel the ears for the lyrics, and between-chorus notations to appreciate this. Another good track if it's an acquirable taste, so now onto Beast where harps and harmonies are the order and Agnes' pianowork takes backseat. The chorus, as the remainder of the album I believe has an antiquated feel, perhaps lifted from a Narnia volume. The instrumental Louretta is much more of electronica, a brief two minute opus leading into the second half of Philharmonics, where more electronic piano work is the backdrop for Avenue, very Broadway-ish but with not too much classical layering scrubbed off the face of the earth.

Track number eight is the title track which promises to be slightly more intense, but the onus is more on the tale, where it's a more haunting story. Now onto Close Watch which was originally written by John Cale, and it's a fine version of  the brilliant Velvet Underground song. One of the best tracks too. Third instrumental is Wallflower, there is some cello work accompanying Agnes' ivories and even without the vocals still maintains an air of theatre and drama over it. We're into the final throes of the album now, and Over The Hill is a very pedestrian number but still a good track as it doesn't run too long to be heavily labored. Final track is On Powdered Ground, which is more livelier, ever more intense and has hints of Ray Charles, then towards the end, the harmonics sign off.

I mentioned earlier the length it took to record this album, six years I believe, but the slow burn procedure has been worthwhile. As a classical piece, it's not hardcore and it's better sold on song, and my general appraisal is that it's been a genuine delight to hear someone different, and with such and seductive overtones to boot, it's been a pleasure to have heard this. It mightn't swing me to listen to more in this genre, nor is it the greatest classically orientated album I've heard, but certainly up there in the dizzying echelons.

8 out of ten. Oh, now you have my attention, and maybe my money, time and heart.
Best Track : Riverside

Buy Philharmonics here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
Deezer listeners click on this link
Official Agnes Obel website here
Official Agnes Obel Facebook page here

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