Saturday, May 28, 2011


I was first introduced to the wonderful talent that is Agnes Obel watching the Grey’s Anatomy episode “Not Responsible” (Episode 16 of Season 7) which featured her song “Riverside”. It was with some surprise that I later stumbled upon her debut album sitting there, unloved and untouched, in my inbox. It had been sent to me some weeks prior, but I had missed it entirely.
The beautiful Danish singer/songwriter's debut album "Philharmonics" was released on October 4th, 2010 in several European countries, with later dates for certain countries. In her native Denmark it has already been certified double-platinum, charting top ten in France, Netherlands and other places. All of the songs are the classically trained Obel's original work except "Close Watch" (I Keep A Close Watch by John Cale) & "Katie Cruel" (a folk traditional; an iTunes bonus track of the album).  

"Philharmonics" is an incredibly consistent (perhaps too much), understated but very worthy first offering. Both the abstract lyrics and broody, sullen instrumentation are highly reminiscent of a good portion of album tracks from Sixpence None The Richer's self-titled 1997 offering. The breathy, lilting vocals of Miss Obel also bear certain similarities to those of SNTR front-woman Leigh Nash. On the downside, there is little variation; there is nothing here that will grab you by the throat and catch your immediate attention. Half-way through the album tracks can seem to fuse into one another with little distinction, making the album seem a far longer listen than the 37 and a half minutes it clocks in at.

The LP opens with the first of three instrumental tracks, "Falling, Catching". It's beautiful and haunting and sets the stage perfectly for album highlight "Riverside", which picks up where it left off. Watch the video below.

Neither quality nor tempo change much in any of the subsequent tracks; Agnes proceeds effortlessly through "Brother Sparrow", "Just So" and "Beast". "Louretta", the second instrumental, features a charming fairground feel, especially notable in its intro. The next three sung tracks - "Avenue",  "Philharmonics" and "Close Watch" - are in the same vein as the previous three sung tracks. Another instrumental (the final) "Wallflower" segues before Agnes closes off with two other sung tracks, "Over The Hill" and the aptly chosen album closer "Powdered Gun".

Joining lead single "Riverside" as album highlights are title track "Philharmonics" and closer "Powdered Gun"; one cannot but feel that the rest of the tracklist was ordered around these three superior tracks. The other tracks have an unfortunate tendency of blurring into one another, making "Philharmonics" a memorable album of largely forgettable songs. 

Agnes is currently working on her sophomore project, as well as promoting "Philharmonics" and releasing an iTunes Live from Paris EP (out 5/31 in the USA). 

Follow her on Twitter @AgnesObel and myself @FOTPBlog