Agnes Obel – Philharmonics
It’s not hard to muster some gushing verbal diarrhoea of how enchanting, bewitching, and other-worldly Philharmonics sounds but the truth is that with songcraft as subtle and studious as this, its appeal owes more to the melting pot of influences being mined. Agnes Obel’s piano led motifs recall Satie, Debussy, and even Saint-Saens as much as they evoke contemporaries like Joanna Newsom, Feist and the late Elliot Smith.
Obel has the voice to equal her musical prowess, swooning gracefully, often harmonising with itself above a melange of sweet strings, piano and understated production nuances. Many of the songs blossom with strange dynamic charms like on Brother Sparrow when a pulsing rhythm kicks in and elevates the song to another level or on the metronomic plucks of Beast where Obel’s vocal really flourishes. A striking version of John Cale’s Close Watch seals the deal. The casual listener may struggle to dip into Philharmonics, but with dedication it’s a rich discovery. [Alan Souter]