Agnes Obel has managed to evolve her sound over her music career whilst never really leaving her signature core behind. After her devastatingly beautiful debut ‘Philharmonics’, she moved into more chamber instruments with ‘Aventine’. ‘Citizen of Glass’ saw her start to modulate her voice with various pitch-shifting effects but it still kept her mood and sound.
‘Myopia’ keeps everything that has come before but the theme of this album is about blurring sounds. From the first notes of ‘Camera’s Rolling’ the vocal synths return, the piano returns, the strings swirl mystically. The key here is that the ‘Myopia’ blurs where they all meet together. This album is the most mystical and ethereal of Agnes’ yet. The extended outro of ‘Camera’s Rolling’ is a clue of where Obel wants the album to head. ‘Broken Sleep’ has so much going on musically but each layer is hushed and smudged out so nothing stands out. It is like the music is half awake. That is not a criticism – its a quirky and unique style of production and it sells the album and its mood.
Once you notice and seep into this smudged sound, like how woman were filmed in the 1930s, the album takes on a truly mystical and alien tone. ‘Island of Doom’ filters the piano into a watery gurgle. Agnes’ vocals float over the top and the dense production makes so much sense. Even the instrumental ‘Roscian’ switches from dreamy to creepy and back again. As the sound for the album is a dreamscape, percussion is few and far between. The title track is one of the only instances where a drum is heard and even then it is drenched in reverb. Obel doesn’t want you to wake from the creepy slumber she has placed you in.
The second half of the album moves even deeper into the atmospheric side of things. Two more instrumentals appear in ‘Drosera’ and the achingly beautiful ‘Parliament of Owls’. The latter is possibly her most heartbreaking instrumental to date. ‘Can’t Be’ and ‘Promise Keeper’ both show the different ways Agnes Obel moves her voice in the mystical sense. The former is more aggressive and the latter plays with lots of distance effects. At times it has a Bulgarian choir quality to it which was not where I thought the album would ever head. The verses are very pensive and trapped on a single chord and so when the choruses hit they feel like an unveiling. After all the pensive and taut production, ‘Myopia’ closes off with a gentle caress. ‘Won’t You Call Me’ is a hark back to early Obel with the softest vocals and distant piano casually making you ugly cry to infinity.
With each album, Agnes Obel excavates a little deeper into her ambient and ethereal shroud. Whilst I would have loved a couple more vocal tracks on ‘Myopia’, the instrumentals work fantastically with the dense and foggy mood the album provides. This may not be the best place to start with Agnes’ music, but it is certainly able to go toe-to-toe with her best.