Agnes Obel has a style that is more distinctive than most. Her sound focuses around her piano work, which is heavily influenced by classical music in general and the Impressionistic era in particular, and most of her songs also include some accompaniment on strings. Obel’s second album Aventine came out in 2013. Written, produced, and mostly arranged by Obel herself, the album’s ostensibly conventional reliance on artistry and performance is both striking and refreshing. The album opens with a dark, minor-key instrumental that segues into “Fuel to Fire.” The lyrics reflect doubts in a romantic relationship — it could be really good, or it could go up in flames — but the ominous tone of the music really brings out the tension. Another strong tracks is the title song. The word “Aventine” comes from a mountain range in Italy; like Enya, Obel picks words that fit the mood of the music. This fairly upbeat waltz features a lot of pizzicato strings and that give the song a distinctive rhythm. My favorite track is another waltz, called “The Curse.” The “curse” is a metaphor for living safely within the confines of what’s expected of you.
Aventine is an exceptional work from a rare talent. Agnes Obel’s embrace of classical music in an era of increasingly electronic (and increasingly disposable) pop comes across as a stubborn act of defiance. But when you can let your skills as a creator and performer speak for themselves as well as she can, there’s really no good reason not to.
Overall grade: A
"Fuel to Fire"
A live performance of "The Curse"