Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Agnes Obel - "Citizen Of Glass" Blends and Bends Dark Folk, Classical, Experimental and More Into A Trippy Masterpiece

These harried days when most of us are doing too much and when multi-tasking is the norm we can easily miss the beauty that is placed in front of us. That was almost the case for me when I was first learned about Agnes Obel. Having worked 13 hour days and my head full of ferocious punk rock I could not fully absorb the lush experimentalism of Golden Green, my first introduction to the award winning Danish singer / songwriter who says she is drawn to "simple melodies" and while her melodies at their core do have a beautiful simplicity, she frames them in this kind of grandiose abstract way.

It is this utterly artistic and, to me, proto punkish (at heart) approach that started creeping under my skin as my curious nature lead me to You Tube to find more of her work. I quickly found Familiar also off of Obel's new album Citizen Of Glass and all the edgy confinement of my stressful day started falling off me. Familiar's sort of circular rhythmic cadence sometimes punctuated by a single note on the keyboard that gives way to a stunning wash of interweaving male and female vocals enticed me. Stoic Cellos pull you in too. This track feels like the most accessible, most commercial on the album.

Other songs like Stretch Your Eyes are something else entirely. The percussive bass line along with Obel's full low tones are so utterly engaging. The sultry cadence feels mischievous and has dashes of 1930's jazz / blues. The song shifts as you hear breaths and string sections bending uncomfortably creating this alluring uneasy tension. This is such trippy beautiful stuff. When the hurried pulse of the instrumental Red Virgin Soil starts I am reminded of the third stream classical experimentalism of Moondog, Condor Gruppe and of Philip Glass. Mysterious and slightly askew it is a kind of orchestral dance on a very, very cool groove.

My favorite song on the album is the masterful It's Happening Again. I have listened to this song at least 25 times and every single time I feel a hush of goosebumps skate across my arms. It happens at the very beginning. This song just gets to me. Obel's voice with it's rich low end and touch of grit is so incredibly beautiful and sad. Her emotions are fully coated on each sound, each consonant. I immediately flashed on Mai Yamane with The Seatbelts and their work with Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop) while listening to this song. Obel has taken what is ostensibly a beautiful piano ballad and turned it into a haunting affair with a wall of upfront vocals that are whispy and over modulated at the same time. The swelling music and almost mantric chorus wraps around you. Apart from the truly engaging melody, the frayed organic sounds (that feel like that are massaged through a synth blender) create an atmosphere that feels supernatural and off kilter. The combination of it all may make you shed a tear or make you feel like you are walking down a twisted yellow brick road. It is like the most beautiful pastoral scene as painted by David Lynch.

Stones with it's chamber music vibe is stripped down and moving. Trojan Horses is a trip. It feel part horror movie theme and part austere and as icy cold like viking ships in a medieval Icelandic wasteland. It grows into a vast fable. The title track Citizen of Glass with Obel's beautiful voice and piano combined has an almost "Mad World" vibe at first. It feels as dire a "the end of days" that she sings about. The very somber instrumental Grasshopper feels like dark wave-ish / dark folk as swirling strings circle the heavy handed piano notes like vultures. It is striking and sucks you into it's world. This track and the aforementioned Red Virgin Soil are amazing pieces of work as instrumentals that belong on a sound track to an equally amazing movie.

The last track on Obel's album is Mary. The runaway piano lines that chase themselves with a dark chill and Obel's more than dreamy vocals feel somewhere between a tortured ghost story or the gothic horror not of Frankenstein's castle but of life in high school and the drama that lies behind white picket fences:
 "from my high school heart that nothing is over, from a touch it will begin, wide on the sky... In my house the silence rang so loud, under doorways, through the hallway down, waiting for the secret to grow out, oh what we do when no one is around"-

Agnes Obel's "Citizen Of Glass" due out October 21st is an emotionally and musically multilayered stunning piece of work full of surprises and musical turning points. Like any great piece of art it feels expansive, it make you feel better for having listened to it. For me it contains a masterpiece in It's Happening Again and for you it will undoubtedly contain others. I implore you to give it your full attention not when you are running around like a chicken with your head cut off but when you can immerse yourself in Obel's beautiful stories.
Robb Donker

You can pre-order and connect with Agnes Obel here.

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