Music Reviews

Agnes Obel Myopia

(Deutsche Grammophon) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Danish singer-songwriter/composer Agnes Obel writes somber works of art surrounded by concepts of the reflective self. While 2012's Aventine took a more impressionistic approach to how we understand memory, 2016's Citizen of Glass questioned the role of privacy and how we expose ourselves to others. In Myopic, her fourth LP, Obel wanted to create in deep isolation without any outside influence, allowing herself to build self-trust as she experiments within a set of strengths and limitations. Her self-proclaimed "myopia" is the same bubble that we create ourselves, and ultimately, an attempt to better understand how to communicate art to a broader audience under those terms.

Obel's work has indeed grown denser with time and experience, though not without dismissing the openness in which her music functions. On Island of Doom and Promise Keeper, she uses various vocal manipulation techniques over striking piano passages that create an unsettling atmosphere—eliciting feelings of escape in her cold, dark imagery. Whereas on piano instrumental Roscian, she follows the spare minimalism of Aventine and 2010's Philharmonics, still indebted to her classical training even as she touches on goth-tinged electronic motifs. She's as cryptic as ever, both musically and lyrically, evoking a sort of mystic enchantment that's better left unexplained.

There's a grand sense of scale in Myopic's elegant contours. From the strings-led Parliament of Owls to the opulent chamber arrangements of the title track, Obel manages to retain a gentle intimacy even when she flirts with the emotional transcendence of new age. She did record the album in her home studio in Berlin, after all, but it's in how she alters her ghostly, choral-like voice that she's able to elevate her entire environment. These are common attributes of her work, which much to its detriment, can sometimes make it appear as if there's a sameness to the material (her explorations don't stray too far from Citizen of Glass). But Obel's open-ended ideas are deeply affecting—a testament to an artist who can let out more of herself the more confined she feels.