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Agnes Obel – “Aventine” Review

Obel's follow up album is a stripped back but delicately balanced affair
Agnes Obel
Agnes Obel

Agnes Obel is a Danish delight that certainly believes unlike the pastries and bacon, less is more. Aventine pushes this far further than her début album by almost ridding every instrument and leaving voice, piano and strings remaining. It’s a delicate album that may appear boring and sombre to some, but the beauty is in its delicate nature.

“Chord Left” is a quiet piano opener that showcases how closely the piano has been mic’d up. You can hear the hammers striking the ivory and that intimate warmth carries throughout the album. The sweeping “Fuel to Fire” is one of the tracks that’s more developed with strings, bass and piano working in smooth textures to allow Agnes to stretch her vocals. She also uses the piano itself in a percussive edge as it sounds like the actual piano itself becomes a beat in the background. Agnes’ vocals are sublime and caress your ear lovingly, especially where they are layered into wonderful harmonies. “Dorian” turns down the sweeping nature for a more claustrophobic mix of muted piano and gentle bass over Obel’s collage of hushed vocals. It’s one of the easiest songs to start with if you’d like to get into Agnes and it’s also one of the sonically interesting.

“Aventine” brings the strings to the fore, notably the pizzicato strings. It’s a playful track that has a waltzing sway to it and a pace to it because of the string arrangement. There is a single kick drum that sounds out on occasion that gives the track a grande feel as it swirls around its chord structure. “Run Cried The Crawling” is more ethereal with spacious backing vocals and light high-pitched string dives keeping the peace over sawing strings. It isn’t dramatic – it has a lazy whimsy effect that makes everything feel like bubble bath, no matter how sad the tunes are – like placing a vintage instagram filter on a photo. “Tokka” is a second piano interlude” before “The Curse” empties all your emotion in this six-minute epic. It’s like each section of the album is wrapped up in this track. Strings, piano and vocal work in perfect harmony for one of the standout tracks in Obel’s career to date.

“Pass Them By” is the cute track of the album. It has a gallop to it with the added acoustic guitar that joins half way and really adds another dimension to a track that is open and spacious. It’s another highlight in an album packed with highlights – especially the outro. “Words Are Dead” has more echo given to the piano and vocal in this minimalistic track that utterly wrecks you. It’s simply piano structure allows Agnes to soar and flip from low to high register and command the track. Timeless. “Fivefold” is the most bouncy the piano gets all record in this tense swirl of chords before “Smoke and Mirrors” rounds the album off with a track initially sounding akin to a child’s song that works to showcase the sparseness of Agnes’ tracks.

“Aventine” isn’t for everyone as it is a quiet album and some people need something to be exploding somewhere to understand depth and emotion. This is chamber emotion evolved. Beautiful.

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