Photo: Alex Brüel Flagstad / Courtesy of Blue Note Records

Agnes Obel’s Chamber Pop Hits a New Peak on ‘Myopia’

Agnes Obel's Myopia is delicate and personal, employing treated vocals and piano to plow depths of sorrow and interrogate dark storms of the soul.

Agnes Obel
Blue Note
21 February 2020

A mournful and bleary-eyed concept album viewing human connection and relationships as portals of spirits and Gothic nightmares, Agnes Obel’s fourth album, Myopia, comes draped in a cloak of macabre misery. Each one of its rumbling and languorous meditations reflects feelings of trust, doubt, loss, and vulnerability, punctuated by lovely, neo-classical interludes that serve the function of chapter breaks or trailers while invoking Yann Tiersen’s bittersweet miniatures. The Copenhagen-born, classically-trained singer-songwriter was raised on jazz, classical, and folk music. Her ethereal and ornate sound channels these traditional forms with crepuscular flecks of art-pop, trip-hop, and electronica to dazzling effect.

Myopia was recorded during sleepless late nights in her home studio in Berlin, which is audible in the record’s hushed, contemplative and weightless melancholy. Obel’s wistful, rain-flecked gauziness has grown more pronounced here. Songs like “Island of Doom” and “Broken Sleep” prick the hairs on the back of your neck with their unnerving dissections of the fragile human heart.

Throughout Myopia, she employs vocal manipulations and muffled treatment of piano to smother her tender, eerily beautiful ballads in an ambient mist, as if heard through the walls of the back room of a smoky bar. Skeletal percussion, synths, celesta, lutheal (a super-harmonic piano used by Ravel), and gossamer strings flesh out the singer’s parched delivery and cushioned sighs with a deceptive, disconcerting intensity that warrants repeated exposure.

“Broken Sleep” attains a state of bruised grandeur as her keening voice dovetails lusciously with pizzicato strings and a pillowy piano figure. Elsewhere, the exhilarating title cut creates an atmosphere of intoxicating dejection with its soaring vocal arcs and silvery string arrangement. The subtle ambient glow of “Promise Keeper” tip-toes into Julianna Barwick and Grouper terrain, almost too fragile to stand unaided.

Despite the funereal pace and placid instrumentation, “Myopia” radiates whispery turbulence and uncertainty, generating feelings of wanting to push the outside world to one side and locking into white noise. The measured contributions of violinist John Corban and cellists Kristina Koropecki and Charlotte Danhier imbue the material with an unfettered elegance that unlocks the poetry within each fluttery incantation.

Myopia is studded with numerous precedents and inspirations, namely PJ Harvey’s ‘White Chalk”, Joanna Newsom, Lisa Hannigan, and Antony and the Johnsons to name a few. Obel’s angelic mixture of bliss and anguish conjures a self-contained mood of wonderment, sorrowful and subdued.

RATING 8 / 10