JANUARY: Agnes Obel – Citizen of Glass

I cannot claim any long-standing relationship with Ms. Obel’s music. One evening in late November I switched 6 Music and caught the back-end of a live session. It was the voices I heard that sparked my interest initially. I think I only heard about 90 seconds but after a bit of ‘Ask Jeeves’ (Q:does that still exist?… A:I don’t know, Google it?) I was introduced to Ms. Obel’s music. Citizen of Glass was not out but there were a few tracks on Spotify and I loved each and everyone.

As referenced previously in my wittering, I don’t get as much time to listen to music as I used to / would like. I do listen to music in the evenings but my evenings are not as long as they used to be. Following the daily bedtime battle and the realisation that child-2 will probably be awake for 3 hours in roughly 2.5 hrs we like to keep the evenings calm. I like to read but am useless at reading when listening to some music. I struggle with a lot of music with lyrics when reading. Over the course of a few years this has significantly changed my listening habits. My evening music has become calmer and more instrumental. I listen to a lot of (cringe) ‘Modern Classical’ ‘Neo-Classical’ (puke) and other terms for music with strings that nobody knows what to call. Musicians (composers?) such as Olafur Arnalds, Max Richter, Johann Johannsson and Julian Barwick have become the main-stay of what I actually listen to. However, I’ve not shared any of this on the blog which is stupid really as it is what I listen to and this blog is supposed to be about sharing new music and what we’re currently listening to.

Which brings me to Citizen of Glass by Agnes Obel. Ms. Obel is a Danish singer / songwriter. A bit of time on ‘Ask Jeeves’ suggests numerous genres for her music – classical, folk, pop, experimental among others. The main point for me is that her music is calming and beautiful. There are no beats. There will be no-cool-down-with-the-kids points available for referencing this album, unless of course the kids are listening to music like this which could well be happening given my proximity to ‘cool’.

The album is cinematic and sweeping. It has a rhythm to its sequence and provides a progression through the tracks but also a gentle return to its starting point. By this I mean that listening on repeat is a rewarding experience. There are 10 tracks in all, 8 vocal and 2 instrumentals. The instrumentals (for me) do not feel like filler and have stand out qualities that set them apart as rewarding entities in their own right. The instrumentation is 100% acoustic / orchestral – lost of piano (though this is her album where she consciously steps away from reliance on the piano), strings, harpsichord, harp, spintet, celsta (…. I’m not selling this am I?) and of course her voice. I’ve not checked all the vocal credits but she provides her own backing vocals and harmonies. She even duets with herself on ‘Familiar’ where she provides a ‘male’ counterpoint to her beautiful ‘female’ vocal.

As with many albums the greatest rewards come on repeat listens when you have the ability to concentrate on the music rather than as background music. I hope that you guys get as much from this as I have. I appreciate that this may not be ‘your usual thing’ but hey, it may well be and you’ve just not been blogging about it like me.

 

11 comments

  1. David Allison

    Perhaps I haven’t lived with this album long enough to comment, but I have played it quite a few times. And I have to confess I’m really struggling with it. It’s tasteful and beautifully arranged, and she is clearly a talent, but there is something so careful and restrained about it that it’s not really making an impresssion on me; it seems to wash over me. I thought I must be not listening properly so I sat down and really concentrated, but that doesn’t seem to have opened it up any more for me. The rather funereal pace isn’t helping.

    However, it is pleasant and a tough listen, so I will continue to delve into it hoping to find what I’m currently missing…

  2. misterstory

    Hi David – Its not a total surprise my friend. I was very nervous about this one as its a great fit for me and my ‘use’ of music these days but that is very personal and circumstantial so was fearful that it would not translate into your lives. Marketing-wise this is clearly not being aimed a ‘us’ by her record label (have a look at the Tube adverts next time you’re in the smoke / look at here other album covers). ‘Tasteful’ is probably the most insightful word you used!

    I never found it a tough listen and repeat listens are a frequent event for me. I found it to have a relaxing and hypnotic effect on me but if you’re finding it hard then that won’t happen.

    As you all know I was hesitant about choosing this but spoke to Nolan and I wanted to bring something new and different as that was the aim of the blog. Let’s see how it settles with others. Happy Friday Brothers.

  3. David Allison

    I LOVE that it’s a more leftfield choice. We mustn’t ever try and choose on what we think everyone else will like!

    By the way, Brothers, how about another round of classic albums of old soon – the last one was great?

    • misterstory

      Novel choices are good but it is no fun when you choose something that folks don’t like so we must all have that in our minds at least a little? We’re only human?

      Classic Albums round 2 (or 3?) would be welcome. Talking Heads and Van Morrison are both notable successes from the last round. I listen to both albums still.

  4. Paul Adderson

    I had no idea what to expect with Citizen of Glass. Despite being a heavy 6 listener, Agnes Obel’s not made her way onto the morning/drivetime playlist that I usually frequent. What’s been surprising for me is how often I’ve come back to listening to these songs. Maybe it’s been the seemingly endless cycle of getting up when it’s dark, going home when it’s dark but this has offered something so calming at just the time when I didn’t want crash bang clatter, wanted an escape from the norm and could do with some centring and tranquility. This is a gorgeous headphones album – Red Virgin Soil in particular has the most stunning percussion that on the first couple of listens made me look up to see what was making the sound, it was so real and clear that it could have been in the room. What I’m particularly enjoying is that it’s so far removed than what I normally listen to and yet it’s drawing me back in for repeated listens. There aren’t songs to sing along to in the traditional sense but they’re more akin to performance pieces; I imagine they’re really something performed live.

    This is a gorgeous, unique, swooping soundscape of a collection and it’s a strong start to 2017.

    • misterstory

      That’s made my day Paul. I’m usually happy if at least one of the crew gets one of my choices, particularly one of the more unusual choices. I was a bit concerned this would be 4-0. Its interesting that you point to Red Virgin Soil as a stand out as I always felt the 2 instrumental tracks were 2 of the strongest on the album as opposed to the filler t that instrumental tracks often represent on largely vocally driven albums. You’re also right about the headphones bit. Obviously all music sounds better on headphones but this is special on headphones … and calm room … and a glass of whisky.

  5. whyohwhyohwhy

    Morning brothers. I know I’m late to the party here, still playing catch up from India, but I’ve finally waded in this week. It’s too early too make a full review but it’s a very pleasant listen. The vocals are ethereal, and the harmonies, particularly with the male voices, are great.

    I do have less listening time of late, certainly when I’m doing nothing else, so I need to take a walk and give this a proper listen. A nice, different choice though.

  6. nolankane706

    So I finally have had time to fully get stuck into this over the last week. In short it has been on non stop. This is right up my Strasse. I can understand why you may have had some reservations with this Brother Joey. With the exception of maybe two albums, the folk influenced albums through the years have always divided us on here. I will say that it has never been down the line as all of us do like the folk influence, and much like the King Creosote and Jon Hopkins album this has all hit us in a positive light. But why wouldn’t it, it’s pretty close to flawless. I’ve found myself lost in this album. In short I love it. Will done brother Joseph!

    • David Allison

      See, Joey, it was only me who’s the refusenik!
      Afraid I still can’t get into it. I can’t find anything in it that I can latch on to. Don’t know why. It feels cold and impenetrable to me. But clearly it’s just me!

  7. misterstory

    Good afternoon Brothers.

    No worries David! If you’re not feeling you’re not feeling it. As I said when Paul responded, I’m usually happy for one person to really like one of the left-field choices. Its obviously nice when everyone feels it and we can have a love-in but hey those albums are few and far between and/or their albums we all would have bought anyway. Thanks for trying with it, that’s all we can ask?

    I’m glad that I’ve introduced something to your household Nolan. Let me know what the other albums are like mate as I’ve not had the chance to get into them yet.

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