Ahead of her opening spot on the upcoming Dead Can Dance tour of North America, Agnes Obel has been busy. I felt the need to familiarize myself with her style and artistry, and I have been seriously impressed with what I have heard. Her new album, called “Myopia”, releases on February 21st, and it will take you away into your own thoughts and musings.
Agnes hails originally from Denmark, though she records in Berlin. Her musical endeavors are notoriously reclusive in nature, as she prefers to shut herself away from the world as she writes and records her music. In this way, she seems to avoid outside influences and inspirations, and instead turns towards her own heart and mind for that stimulus. On “Myopia”, she handles vocals, piano, keys, synth, beats, and rhythms. She also brought in guest musicians John Corban (violin) and Kristina Koropecki (cello) on a several tracks.
Agnes makes music that is difficult to approximate or label. Upon immediate impression, it is obviously ambient in nature. Her music floats and wanders, and instrumentation is always a means to that noble end. I would also point out folk, electronic, and pop accents can be found throughout, and her piano feels very neoclassical to me. Possibly the most defining characteristic of her music, Agnes’ vocals are filtered and warped in unique and mind-bending ways. She loves to pitch down and twist her voice into haunting soundscapes that can completely change an entire song.
In all honesty, Agnes’ music garners all kinds of labels, but “Myopia” has me asking myself some questions. What is progressive music really? What does that term mean? I ask myself this fairly often, but I’ve learned to go with my gut, primarily. Not only that, but I’ve also learned that the term itself isn’t very important, especially if it guides our musical tastes. Many people would not include Agnes Obel in the progressive community; but I, for one, cannot see how what she accomplishes is anything short of highly ambitious, fantastically creative, and musically unalike almost anything I have heard. What other name would suffice for an artist like this? If “prog” is all about guitar wankery or incredibly long songs, then this might not be for you. If “progressive” means something deeper and more human than that, Agnes will connect with you immediately.
Okay, I’m happy I have that off my chest now. Let’s continue. “Myopia” refers to a lack of imagination or foresight. It can medially refer to nearsightedness of the eye, but more generally refers to people with no creative or visionary qualities. I think this title applies two ways here. First, Agnes has stated that she needs to create her own little myopia in order to write and record from her own mind, meaning that she doesn’t want outside influences to dominate her style. Lyrically, though, the album explores the human mind. She asks questions about trusting one’s self and one’s own opinions, judgments, and perspectives. One of her singles, “Broken Sleep”, seems to have sparked this line of thought, as she wrote it during a time of sleeping difficulty. She learned that many cultures consider trouble sleeping to be related to fear of death, and so it may end up being a psychological problem, first and foremost. The entire album seems to follow this idea of questioning what we believe and supposedly know.
“Myopia” can often come across as unnerving and eerie. The music accomplishes this with warped vocals and hanging atmospheres, but the lyrics add to the effect of melancholy and introspection. Indeed, the album dances in the shadows of your mind, flitting about with bright sparks of light, but also tidal waves of darkness. You can feel the personal struggle and the blue light of gloom, and it is truly a beautiful experience.
The singles are “Broken Sleep” and “Island of Doom”. The former is whimsical and delicate with a violin-led chorus that satisfies with its oddity. The latter is my favorite of the two, though, with its hefty vocal filtering and distressingly human verses. The album also features three instrumental tracks, “Roscian”, “Drosera”, and “Parliament of Owls”. These songs are elegant, mindful, and almost urgent in nature. They evoke various feelings, but earnestness and desperation seem to be in all of them, in my perspective.
My favorite tracks on the album are the title track and “Won’t You Call Me”. The title track is a twisting song of hesitating cello, hanging vocals, and clear melody. The waves of violin feel sad and lively at the same time, and hazy atmosphere fills the void around them in stunning fashion. “Won’t You Call Me” ends the album in a very personal, almost pleading fashion. It feels dark and misty, and the swelling melody sounds amazing. This song might actually have my favorite chorus on the album.
Agnes Obel has been true to herself on “Myopia”. This is unique, powerful music that will have you drifting and pondering along with the melodies. On one hand, it feels intense and dark, but it often feels light and feathery, too. This album is an experiment in textures, feelings, and tones, and anyone who loves ambitious music should fall for it as I have.
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