When the colder months roll around, my taste in music seems to go from high energy to supremely chill. (See last year’s Winter Holidaze playlist for evidence of that.) There’s something about the dropping temperatures and the desire to just sit and watch the life cycle of the world come to an end that leaves me with a real appreciation for music that maintains its vibrancy on a softer level.
Sigur Ros has long been one of my favorites in this department – but only once it starts snowing. Only. In fall, I love listening to Karen Elson’s album, The Ghost Who Walks. Maybe it’s just a Chromesthesia thing, but when I hear that album, all I see is rust colored, crunchy leaves and harvest moons, and that feels really, really cozy to me. If you can get past the whole “murder ballads” thing, anyway.
Recently, I’ve been looking for something a little different that fulfills my downtempo desires with a more dreamy aesthetic, and I think I may have found it.
Agnes Obel is a brand new discovery for me, despite her immense accolades in Europe. As a pianist and vocalist, Obel has received several awards for her music, including five from the Danish Music Awards (as a Copenhagen native). Obel released her second album, Aventine, on September 30th and has been receiving praise ever since because, well, it’s awesome. After growing up in a house full of random instruments and having a pianist for a mother, it’s no surprise that Obel’s unique musical vision is so well translated.
After reading a few interviews with her, I knew exactly why I liked her music.
I’ve always been attracted to all simple melodies, almost childish. I heard like songs. I also took a long time before writing texts, tunes that I already seem like a story, project images. And then write lyrics that make sense but the words are the music is so difficult.
When I first heard Aventine, I was completely transported. Her opening instrumental, Chord Left, provides the perfect introduction and mood for the rest of the tracks to follow. A bit sullen, but bright and the perfect about of creepy. I am a big-time creepy music fan, and piano, when used well, can be one of the most absolutely haunting instruments. Agnes Obel completely embraces that and applies it to dreamy, ethereal melodies that make you wonder if the audio world Agnes Obel has created is a safe place or a scary place. Either way, it’s beautiful.
My favorite track on the album may well be the second track, Fuel to Fire, which includes Obel’s sweet but, again, elegiac vocals accompanied by cello, harp and, of course, piano. Her voice is so clear, it’s strong and soft all at once, and beautifully compliments the simplicity of her piano compositions. Her sound has the surreal qualities of Enya mixed with the minimalism of Cat Power or Feist. Her piano compositions are also simple and minimal, they remind me a lot of Erik Satie. Obel has an affinity for simplistic melodies, though she calls them “almost childish” in nature.
Sidenote: The fact that she’s a) as good live as she is on a record when it comes to this song may or may not be influencing my desire to bear her children, at this point.
Other noteworthy songs on the album include Word Are Dead, which includes beautiful harmonics and surprisingly optimistic melody. Many of Obel’s songs read like poetry. Another favorite has to be the closing song, Smoke & Mirrors, for is whimsical and playful sound and saucy, saucy humming. Mmm.
(Once again, incredible when performed live.)
If Aventine not the perfect “drink coffee and watch the snow fall” album, it’s definitely the perfect “up until dawn and then some” album.