2010's Philharmonics, the debut album from Danish-born, Berlin-based singer-songwriter Agnes Obel, has very much found its own flight. Its sparse, disarmingly beautiful songs have connected past the barriers of culture and language to become a pan-European hit, most notably in Obel's former homeland where it spent seven consecutive weeks at #1 as it shot to Platinum status. Slowly, it has unveiled its charms across the continent too: it's been certified Gold in France, hit the Top 10 in both France and the Netherlands and has made major inroads in Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. Appropriately, audiences are discovering the album's beauty for themselves, its message conveyed via word-of-mouth and its contemporary online equivalent.
As a child, Obel was subconsciously guided into music by the influence of her mother and father, who would play and listen to a blend of the classical greats, folk music like Jan Johansson and the timeless sounds of Roy Orbison. "A lot of this music I grew up with, but there were also times when I didn't care for it at all," she confesses. As she grew up and discovered her own identity as a music fan, other artists came to the fore with Elliot Smith and Portishead's Dummy album proving to be particularly influential.
Entirely self-played and produced, Philharmonics opens with the instrumental piano piece "Falling, Catching" which echoes her initial confusion over whether her music was classical or something less readily definable. The next song, "Riverside," flows with a depth of emotion embedded with further character by Obel's love of combining her sweet melodies with carefully considered lyrics that evoke the song's innate sound. "Just So" works a similar trick, its blend of melancholy and optimism perfectly encapsulated into the opening line "Black turns beat me bright." Elsewhere, with "On Powdered Ground," "Brother Sparrow" or her interpretation of John Cale's "Close Watch," she melds different moods and atmospheres, all indelibly linked by the brittle majesty of her music.