Danish singer/songwriter Agnes Obel was one of those artists whose name was bandied around by loads of my mates in the industry as a must-listen. However, as I’m sure many of you have experienced yourself, time always runs away from you, and there is never enough of it. So it’s a good thing that Obel will be appearing at SXSW 2017 as part of her continuing campaign to promote her most recent album released last year, or else I might have gone on with my life and never listened to her music properly. Growing up with music and having been classically trained on the piano from a very young age certainly makes her musical background very different from most of the artists we feature here on TGTF, so it should come as no surprise that the music she makes as a thirty-something woman now living in Berlin sounds unique and like no-one else’s.
Last October saw the release of ‘Citizen of Glass’, Agnes Obel’s third studio album. It’s a few months on now, and she has released the fourth single from the LP, ‘Stretch Your Eyes’. Her longtime fans will be familiar with this one: it’s a reworking of ‘Spinet Song’, which was a live favourite during her 2014 tour. While Obel is famous for her evocative arrangements and arresting piano performances, ‘Stretch Your Eyes’ follows the artist’s past pronouncement that she wanted to eschew the piano as her primary instrument of choice on the new album, instead experimenting with a host of other vintage equipment including harpsichords, spinet, celesta and a trautonium, a metal-keyed synthesiser from the 1920s.
This opener to ‘Citizen of Glass’ is driven slowly forward by gentle percussion and the whining strings of a violin, as if a faraway siren’s call. “You can give to my heart / thousand words or more”, she intones in the chorus, and you can’t tell if this is sung out of desire or desperation. As the violin and cello play in harmony in the instrumental bridge, there is a feeling of melancholy. There is also an eerie precision when the piano comes back in with the smoky tones of Obel’s voice. For those who have not had the opportunity to spin the whole of ‘Citizen of Glass’, ‘Stretch Your Eyes’ leads the listener to anticipate what might come next. Interestingly, this album was driven by her own desire to “have this tension in there [in the music]; the feeling of something just about to break apart”, and as a musical cliffhanger, this single is extremely effective.
‘Citizen of Glass’, Agnes Obel’s third album, is available now from PIAS. Stream newest LP single ‘Stretch Your Eyes’ below. Stay tuned for my write-up on Obel as part of my best bets of the Scandinavian acts scheduled to showcase at this year’s SXSW, coming soon to TGTF.