Danish-born and Berlin-based singer Agnes Obel is one of these quiet artists that were “discovered” on the internet. Only composing for herself, one of the songs she had uploaded on MySpace in 2009 was picked up by a German telecom company for a 40 seconds TV ad. A year later her début album Philarmonics, a pitch perfect collection of slow, delicate and melodic instrumentals and songs caused a real sensation, especially in Northern Europe. Coming across as a folk singer influenced by PJ Harvey or Joni Mitchell and by classical impressionist, romantic or minimalist composers like Claude Debussy, Frédéric Chopin or Erik Satie, Agnes Obel’s music is essentially piano-driven with sparse string arrangements. Also on the PIAS independent record label, the singer’s highly anticipated new opus Aventine is just out now.
What is really interesting, and this comes up in many interviews, is that Agnes Obel was not so much inspired by the folk music of her native Scandinavia but more by Swedish jazz pianist Jan Johannson’s interpretation of the music in his seminal 1964 Jazz på Svenska recording. On all variations, the pianist is accompanied by double bass player Georg Riedel…and some tracks are bowed.
I’m a big fan of the Swedish pianist Jan Johansson because he was taking these folk songs and interpreting them in his own way. It always felt like his music sounded like Swedish fairytales with lots of voices, but there were no vocals on his music. I really like that idea and wanted to bring it into my own work.
Interview with Andrew Darley – Polari Magazine – 2013
Almost always sustained by the sound of the cello, Agnes Obel’s same clear and uncluttered piano style transpires in every track, providing the melodic foundation for haunting vocals. “Smoke and mirrors” is the closing song on Aventine and this is an earlier and likewise exquisite acoustic version recorded in 2011 with Anne Müller on the cello.