What does it sound like?:
For this, her third album, Agnes Obel has pushed herself from her comfort zone. She has toughened up and so has her music. There are still echoes of the tinkling piano notes of her debut and pizzicato strings of her second but the arrangements are richer and deeper. The music maintains a delicacy but it isn’t as gossamer in its fragility. For the first half of Citizen Of Glass, there are additional percussion instruments and extra strings. She even uses a spinet, a celeste and a 1920’s Trautonium, a kind of ancient synthesiser, adding spicy flavours to her usual auburn and gold.
The big revelation is the way she uses her voice. It is multilayered to such a degree that it almost becomes an orchestra of its own. The vocal textures are complex and finely detailed, intricate melody lines intimately entwined, with startling variations in pitch and tone. On Familiar, about a dangerous affair, it is distorted into a masculine baritone for her wispy femininity to duet with. During the second half, the instruments gradually fall away. On the title track, she is accompanied by only harp and on Golden Green, she is seated at her favourite piano. By the end of Mary, we are left with only a ghostly whisper.
Citizen Of Glass even has a lyrical theme. It comes from a German legal term referring to how much of an individual’s personal life is publicly known. Obsessed with privacy and fascinated by transparency, the notion has struck a chord with Obel. Nevertheless, her lyrics remain opaque but the hints at dark secrets (Stretch Your Eyes), guilt (Stone), shame (It’s Happening) and vulnerability (Trojan Horses) now have a greater sense of meaning. The results are entrancing.
My only gripe are the two instrumentals. Unlike the ones on Aventine, her previous LP, they add nothing to Citizen Of Glass in terms of tone, mood or texture. Grasshopper, in particular, is an intrusion from another album.
Agnes Obel is Danish but, living in Berlin, she has adapted the German qualities of seriousness and formality into her art. She has created an enchanted forest of sound, both wondrous and unsettling at the same time.
What does it all *mean*?
Three exceptional albums in a row put Agnes Obel in the seriously good category.
Goes well with…
Elegance and beauty.
Might suit people who like…
Joanna Newsom, Laura Mvula, Julia Holter, Benjamin Clementine and C Duncan. This cross between orchestral and pop is a genre of music that is on the rise.