Beautifully Broody; Slightly Melancholy and Mysterious

Aventine – by Agnes Obel

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I have been driving around with this 2-disc set (deluxe edition) in my car for some time, waiting for a moment when I felt like I finally understood this album with enough sophistication to write about it.  But there will never be a perfect moment – so the time is now.  And actually this is just fine, because anybody can instantly appreciate the graceful melodies of this musical work of art – even if it may be difficult to articulate exactly why.

Agnes Obel is a young Danish pianist/songwriter/vocalist/composer with TONS of talent. “Chord Left” opens the album, and strikes you right away with its instrumental beauty – it reminded me immediately of my two favorite movie piano pieces – “La Valse d’Amélie” by Yann Tiersen and “the Beginners” theme by Palmer, Neill, and Reitzell – but it also calls to mind many other classical (slightly impressionistic) piano pieces by the likes of Debussy or even Satie.

This album has been out for a few years –US release in 2013 – but I think it will be a timeless addition to your listening collection.  The deluxe addition that I previewed has some live tracks, and a few other songs – but the regular CD available on Amazon will do you just fine.  If you like vocalists like Tori Amos, Mazzy Star, Beth Orton, and maybe a splash of a new age-y Enya but also (at times) the hint of an edgier bite of someone like Sia – you will appreciate the trained yet unrestrained singing on Aventine. Welcome to the World of Agnes Obel!

Each track is an elegant combination of poetic lyrics, sensitive vocal phrasing, gentle harmonizing, perfectly balanced instrumentation – mostly piano but bringing in other orchestration when relevant (most notably some rich cello sounds and pizzicato violins).  If you think I’m exaggerating or over-generalizing how good this album is, please pick up a copy and see what you have to say about it (I’m honestly curious).

The songs are a little bit broody and dark, slightly melancholy and mysterious – but not without enough magic and beauty to be just uplifting enough so the overall effect is wistful, but not entirely sad.  I won’t write in detail about all of the songs, but here are some highlights:

  • “Words are Dead” is so simple and beautiful, it feels like a haunting vintage melody from the lips of a doomed starlet. I have been known to hum this (probably too loudly) at my desk.
  • “Fivefold” is almost jazzy at times – not my favorite, but I still enjoy it because it is neat how the individual pieces here can be so consistent in style and quality of execution, yet provide completely different experiences of their own.
  • “Run Cried the Crawling” is my favorite. The overall effect reminds me of the Julee Cruise songs from the “Twin Peaks” series – Agnes’ vocals are grittier and more pained here in a way that exudes much emotion.  Not to mention the title sounds like something from a classy horror movie.
  • “Dorian” is also quite likeable, although this is the one that reminds me of an Enya song from the 90s.
  • “Aventine” is the title track, and actually I think it is the most catchy and memorable on the album. The lyrics “you carry my heart in the night” are presented in a very rhythmic way, and the overlapping vocal effects along with the plucking of strings in the background create a lightly percussive effect.

I have no reservations saying that the combination of Agnes’ voice, the wonderful yet sometimes bare instrumentation, and well-crafted songs create one of the most beautiful albums I have ever heard.  This is instantly on my list of music to gift to loved ones (ranging from post-college artsy friends, to my good ol’ mom and everyone in between) because the appeal of this is so wide; her talent is so true and apparent.

A friend from work suggested this album to me, loaned me a copy, then “accidentally bought two” so I am lucky enough to have this for my own.  I keep it in the car for when I want my tree-lined commute to feel like a scene from an art-house film, or another thoughtful movie (maybe with period costumes or some conflicted leading lady character…).   I am very, very grateful for this addition to my list of musical experiences and I am delighted to share it with any of my loyal readers who are tuning in – this is really a treat!

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

Agnes Obel – Google Play

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

Agnes Obel – Amazon

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