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Agnes Obel – “Philharmonics” Review

Sometimes an album can be sparse and delicate and yet utterly fill up a speaker with sound. This is what Agnes Obel’s album “Philharmonics” manages to do with aplomb as all the voices and instruments seem very close to the ear despite being played softly. It’s a wonderful sound and feel that carries the albums melodies perfectly.

Instrumental piano opener “Falling, Catching” is a sombre and whimsy ditty that calms you for what’s to come before the hypnotic “Riverside” showcases the hushed but full voice of Agnes. It’s so smooth and soothing which accompanied by the soft dulled piano notes, it feels so effortless. “Brother Sparrow” brings in some acoustic guitar and minimal percussion for what is a sublime chill out swim. Of course, there’s tons of depth but its all in the feel and detail hidden away.

“Just So” turns to the harp and lots of layered vocals for what is a simple tune that slowly sways and moves into something quite uplifting. “Beast” showcases Agnes’ higher vocal register over a beautiful harp melody – it’s about as close to a catchy hook track the album has had so far with its infectious harp riffs and vocal flexes. Utterly sumptuous.

“Louretta” takes the first bit of electronica to the album as it sounds like a hybrid of a guitar strum and keyboard plink reverberate around behind a piano piece. “Avenue” then moves onto electric pianos almost like a Whirlitzer as Agnes performs a haunting waltzing ballad thick with strings and chords with the last section being particularly effective with some echoing backing vocals swaying off into the distance.

Title track “Philharmonics” opens with the lyric “Guess who died last night” as it entices you in with a playful bobbing piano tune that is built upon with strings. It’s a song that, like a lot of the album is sweet on the surface but there feels like a certain disquiet behind it all with all the minor chords and interesting flourishes. “Close Watch” has a ticking piano/bass undertow over the spacey vocal production. It’s a very bass driven track and has a certain impending doom feel over it all. It could make a snarled rock track but it’s equally as a taut with how its made by Agnes here.

“Wallflower” returns to the tune clashing piano/string instrumentals of before only instead of being beautiful, this is like a kooky baroque dance. “Over The Hill” is a very soft ballad where all the vocals, pianos and strings seemingly melt into each other due to the production and its like listening to velvet. The album closes on the more punchy “On Powdered Ground” where Agnes seems to burst into a more dramatic gear pushing her vocals forward over the eerie beauty of the main melody.

Agnes Obel’s “Philharmonics” reminds me of a much darker piano led sister to Emiliana Torrini’s “Fisherman’s Woman” in terms of its sonic radar. Everything is hushed, almost all of its acoustic but this has more of a sting in the tail. Absolutely hypnotic – I have fallen under the spell of Agnes Obel and did upon the very first listen.

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