Sometimes switching things up takes great courage and a leap of faith. Agnes Obel had created two amazing albums that showcased her piano, string and vocal arrangement skills and a third album following the same pattern would have been expected and welcomed. What Obel provided though was something much more expansive and experimental and in turn she raised her own bar and delivered a fantastic album.
It’s interesting because on the surface, little has changed as the complex “Stretch Your Eyes” kicks off the album in familiar fashion. Tight string arrangements pluck away in one riff whilst another slides and glides across the speakers. Agnes’ piano riffs are never overly complex but it’s the warmth and integrity in which she plays them that draws you in. Of course her voice is sublime and throughout the album she uses it in more creative ways. None more obvious than in “Familiar” where she pitch shifts down to a male voice for the choruses. They are creeping, robotic and yet hypnotic and it’s a genius pair up with the quaint but taut music Agnes creates. “Red Virgin Soil” is a decent instrumental which showcases her piano arrangement skills before the dramatic and symphonic “It’s Happening Again” takes us back to the Agnes of old. It’s repetitive choral line gets laboured and stressed as the strings swell up around her – the track is pure musical theatre and will please a lot of older fans.
Sidestepping out to the harp, “Stone” is a beautiful love song with an infectious riff that helps expand the sound palette of the album and reminds of Beast from her first album in tone and texture. “Trojan Horses” is a big set piece that uses minimal percussion and Agnes’ high register on her vocals to let her soar and serenade your brain into a lullaby sleep. Equal parts dramatic and angelic, it’s one of those tracks you’ll enjoy first time round and then find yourself belting the chorus to on repeated listens without knowing its become a favourite of yours. Interestingly the title track for me is one of the lesser developed and instantaneous tracks on the album and is possibly the one I’ve connected least with. I don’t know why, its time hasn’t come yet.
A track that I have connected with in a huge way is the experimental “Golden Green”. It’s a simple percussive synth that chimes over and over whilst Agnes layers her own vocals over herself to create a collage of sound. It’s delicate, angelic and at times quite bouncy but it’s also quite haunting and eerie too. I feel like this is where Obel’s music works best – when you aren’t quite sure fully of its intent and the lyrics are suitably vague at times too which I enjoy. “Grasshopper” is an interesting track of two halves as the vocals don’t appear until half way and the music is almost like a role play of the titular animal. However “Mary” is classic Agnes Obel and brings everything full circle – back to rich symphonic arrangements and at its core, a woman and her piano singing haunting but hypnotic tunes.
As an album, it’s a standout. It’s a little short perhaps, but her albums always are. I love all the new styles and fun she’s had with the synth work and they add colour to her music rather than overpower it or hide a poor melody. A standout from 2016.
Recommended Track : Golden Green