Music: Philharmonics by Agnes Obel * * * *
Subtle, ghostly, genius
There have been some gorgeous solo debuts this year -- Perfume Genius (Learning) and S Carey (All We Grow) spring to mind straight away -- and here's another one. Agnes Obel is a classically trained musician from Copenhagen and she's made a wonderfully understated album best heard in the wee small hours.
The instrumentation is sparse, with minimal piano to the fore. Strings -- bowed and plucked -- pop up here and there. And then there's her voice -- ghostly and fragile and, in places, heavily accented.
There's a mournful feel to much of the album, not least on her version of John Cale's (I Keep A) Close Watch. It's a song that's been frequently covered, but Obel's haunting take -- renamed simply as Close Watch -- is sublime, not least when she sings "I still hear your voice at night/When I turn out the light and try to settle down/But there is nothing I can do/ Because I can't live without you any way at all".
The most commercial song, Riverside, is in roughly the same ballpark as Laura Marling's folk stylings, but elsewhere her delicate compositions recall those of fellow Scandinavians Silje Nes and Stina Nordenstam, artists whose less-is-more approach is devastatingly effective.
Burn it: Close Watch; Riverside