Liela Moss: My Name Is Safe In Your Mouth
Julie Byrne: Not Even Happiness

Agnes Obel: Citizen of Glass

I guess we've all heard people say of this or that style of music, generally one they don't care for, that "it all sounds the same." And from a casual distance it's usually a fair assessment. After all, Metallica and Megadeth sound vastly more like each other than either sounds like Bruce Springsteen, and someone who doesn't listen to metal might find them indistinguishable--or not worth distinguishing. But to a metal fan there are big and obvious differences. Likewise, someone who doesn't much care for sensitive, restrained, introspective music written and sung by a woman might think this album is not so very different from the Liela Moss one discussed in the previous post.

But in fact they are almost opposites in some ways: lush vs. sparse, expansive vs. intimate, passionate vs. restrained, open vs. guarded; maybe even light vs. dark. Agnes Obel's voice is not as rich as Moss's, and the arrangements are almost minimalist: piano augmented gracefully with touches of strings and percussion and some other sounds that I can't quite identify and are perhaps electronically produced. Obel's music and lyrics are darker, (even) more introspective, and in fact obscure, although that difference may be magnified by the fact that her lyrics are posted on her web site, whereas I have not been able to read Miller's and can't understand a fair number of them. There's no mystic communion with nature here, but rather a very private inner world. 

I thought the first two tracks here were great on first listen, and was thinking that the album might turn out to be a major favorite. To my taste, though, that promise didn't quite hold up. It is very good,  to be sure, but I've ended up less enthusiastic than I began (this is after four or five reasonably close hearings). The material seems a little uneven, although never less than immaculately arranged and performed. And maybe a more significant problem is that the lyrics just don't have much effect for me. It's not just that they're obscure or cryptic, but that they are so in a way that doesn't conjure much in the way of emotion or association for me; your reaction of course might be different. Everything musical here is so precise, so carefully placed to such exquisite effect, that I expect the words to be equally well chosen and placed. And I suppose they may have been by the artist, but for the most part they don't seem that way to me. 

I was intrigued by the title "It's Happening Again," hoping for something Lynchian, which--again, to my taste--the song doesn't quite provide. Perhaps it would for you. I grant that it would not seem out of place performed in the Roadhouse.

Oh look, there's an official video:

Based on the video I'd say the title is definitely a Twin Peaks reference. 

Despite my reservations, this is definitely a work I'll come back to. I see on her web site that she has just released a new album, Myopia. I'll be checking that out. 

Comments

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Funny, I had preordered Myopia back at the beginning of the year and it just arrived yesterday. Haven't had a chance to listen yet. She's now on Deutsche Grammophon, the German classical label, which is interesting. I first heard of her because the song "Familiar" was used in the Canadian cop series Cardinal.

I wondered about the connection between Twin Peaks and "It's Happening Again" but this video definitely seems to bear it out. That's one of my favorite songs on the album; I also like the last song a lot, "Mary."

"Familiar" is one of the most immediately appealing songs on the album. I don't know who that other singer is, but he (?) is very effective.

It occurred to me after I posted this that "It's Happening Again" could also have come from the German sci-fi series I mentioned not long ago, Dark, in which the remark occurs a number of times.

Well believe it or not, the other singer is actually Obel herself auto-tuned down a couple octaves. I found that out when I went online trying to find out who the "other" singer was!

Gosh, that never occurred to me. But it does explain why I wasn't quite sure whether it was a male or female voice.

For the record, Obel's new album Myopia is very good. It's in the same mode as Citizen... but is different enough not to sound like a repeat performance.

On my listening list.

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