Agnes Obel is a Danish singer/songwriter and her album 'Philharmonics' is a perfect little wonder. In some ways it's like a 17th century Dutch still life of a few household objects laid out on a well-worn kitchen table : a water jug, a pewter tankard, a loaf of bread, a dead hare. A glimpse of a life lived simply; a quiet autobiographical snapshot. Nothing can be added or subtracted without losing the integrity of the whole. A frozen private world.
Ms Obel has the kind of voice which could easily blow away in a strong wind and her compositions come and go like half-seen, half-heard spirits in the heart of an Autumn bonfire's dying embers.
There are a dozen pieces in the set. Ephemeral, fragile and devoid of any kind of artifice or unnecessary decoration. The intensity she conjures from the most modest of musical means is astonishing. Voice, piano, occasional additional subtle instrumentation and percussion. The project is a sustained effort of will to exclude any element which might disturb the still surface of the sonic waters.
Title track 'Philharmonics' is an especially beguiling example of the kind of beauty it is possible to create when the ego is kept in check. A haunting waltz-time arrangement blessed with some enchantingly limpid vocal harmonies. It comes and goes like a fleeting daydream.
'Riverside' is a fine song. A ballad whose bare bones are as old as Methuselha. The folk roots of the melody have a childlike profundity which speaks to us of lost times and distant ancestral voices.
'Brother Sparrow', too, hints at something far deeper than its uncluttered raiments initially suggest. A delightful idea, touchingly realised.
Final track 'On Powdered Ground' brings the album to a stately and quietly majestic close.
Now that she is with us in the listening world Agnes Obel deserves to be heard. 'Philharmonics' is a truly stunning debut album. These timeless songs are built to last!