Danish singer songwriter Agnes Obel has released her third album Citizens of Glass, a rich tapestry of string instruments and keyboards, still holding her vocals as the centrepiece – and by string instruments we’re literally talking the full range of violins, cellos, harpsichords, spinet, celestas and a trautonium.
The album title is from the German term ‘gläserner bürger’, meaning transparent citizen, “It’s actually a legal term about the level of privacy the individual has in a state, and in health it’s become a term about how much we know about a person’s body or biology or history – if they’re completely made of glass we know everything. I wanted to push myself conceptually from the starting point, to push the glass theme throughout the songs in different ways – in the lyrics, in the instruments – to do things in a very new way.”Obel explains to Vents magazine.
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It’s something about the Scandinavian mentality of being crafty and hyggeligt, the notion of enjoying the cosy things and being in the moment, that appeals to such a mass audience. Obel’s album puts thought into every strum of the violin, and stroke of the keyboard. It’s a piece of craftsmanship, like her Scandi comrades First Aid Kit and Tallest Man on Earth.
The rhythmic muffled beats of the first track ‘Stretch Your Eyes’ is a yawning rise as the spinet unwinds and the album starts to flow in with its intricate layer of instruments.
‘It’s Happening Again’ is a beautiful reflective piece, which lets the vocals glide and morph elegantly into the violin’s keys. The cello adds a warming bubble as Obel chants “it’s happening again” in a mesmerising manner.
The thick, deep vocals in the chorus of ‘Familiar’ some how work really well, despite the stark contrast to Agnes Obel’s angelic vocal tone. The coarse violin keeps the track raw. It’s no Corrs. This is the real stuff, on a dark, cold winter’s night.
Other tracks like ‘Golden Green’ have a slightly more upbeat tempo, but still play with the dark matters of questioning “tell me who you really love”. ‘Grasshopper’ and ‘Trojan Horses’ relish in the instrumental experiments.
Obel told BBC Music that she approached the whole album like a classical composer, the tracks all fit together as opposed to just cherry picking the good ones. The singer songwriter has clearly challenged her musical background and the result is a quite extraordinary and enchanting composition.
‘Citizens of Glass’ is out now