A blend of folk and classical music, Danish singer-songwriter Agnes Obel’s debut, Philharmonics, is guided by her enchanting, soft vocals, reminiscent of Feist, Alison Sudol (better known as A Fine Frenzy) and Stina Nordenstam.
Most tracks are scarce of instruments and mainly focus on the piano, an instrument that Obel has been playing since an early age. The album opens with “Falling, Catching,” the first instrumental track of three. Just under two minutes, this track has hints of influence from Claude Debussy and Eric Satie.
The opening chord in “Louretta” is carried through the track and this repetition creates a sense of uneasiness paired with the sharp strokes of the melody. In comparison to the other two, “Wallflower” is a darker and heavier track.
Obel’s lyrics are poetic and she seems to meticulously choose the words to create rhyming lines, as found in “Brother Sparrow,” to illustrate strong imageries in “On Powdered Ground” and tell a story in “Philharmonics.”
She incorporates the acoustic guitar in “Just So,” which was featured in a German Telecom commercial. On “Beast,” Obel showcases a harp that strums a feeling of excitement.
“Close Watch” is a cover of John Cale’s “I Keep a Close Watch.” The melodic piano strokes combined with her silky vocals produce a cover that sounds nothing like Cale’s. Obel is creates a completely different feel than Cale — Obel’s is a more upbeat and modern version.
To fully grasp the meaning of Obel’s lyrics, listeners may have to mull over tracks a few times. The majority of the songs seem to emphasize each word; an emphasis that may make listeners lose track of the overall message of the lyrics.
Obel makes a successful debut with Philharmonics, perfecting an album that’s thoroughly contemplative and mesmerizing. Some may pass off this album as boring or dull, but to appreciate the beauty of Philharmonics, it requires concentration — and it’s best enjoyed in solitude.