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Agnes Obel: Myopia (Blue Note)

A review of the Danish musician's dark album

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Agnes Obel, Myopia
The cover of Myopia by Agnes Obel

Copenhagen-born Agnes Obel channels ghosts, spirits, and nightmares, her icy vocal undulations elevated by sparse instrumentation and studio effects. It’s the perfect soundtrack for mourning and murder, as her dark music proved on such TV programs as Danish series The Rain and Germany’s Dark, as well as the video game Dark Souls III: The Fire Fades Edition (warning: “Blood and Violence”). Myopia’s unsettling atmospheres are a one-note anti-paean to misery loving company. We’ve all been there.

Written, arranged, produced, and mixed by Obel—who also handled all vocals, piano, keyboards, synths, beats, and rhythms—Myopia focuses on the soft part of the pituitary gland that controls the protein CRF1, also known as the “misery molecule.” Ambitious and self-sufficient, Obel experiments with warping and pitch-shifting vocals, strings, piano, celesta, and luthéal, an extra-harmonic piano used by Ravel.

Opener “Camera’s Rolling” squeaks and scrapes like a ghoul dragging chains as Obel sings, whispers, hums, and coos over spiraling acoustic piano and macabre strings. “Island of Doom” gets a start with galloping piano chords befitting an auto commercial, followed by Obel’s hoarse whispers and unintelligible vocals. But there’s no resisting her oddly angelic spell; think Kate Bush and Tori Amos serenading Ammit. Further incantations are levied in “Roscian” and the title track—the latter engulfed in big papery beats and Stravinsky-like strings, as Obel layers her vocals to create a sludgy choir. The album closes with the ruminative “Won’t You Call Me,” Obel’s voice fluttering over piano rumbles like an apparition floating on the wind.

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Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef was once a jazz drummer; then he found religion and began writing about jazz rather than performing it. (He continues to air-drum jazz rhythms in front of his hi-fi rig and various NYC bodegas.) His reportage has appeared in Time Out, Modern Drummer, DownBeat, Stereophile, and Electronic Musician. Ken is the administrator of Facebook’s popular Jazz Vinyl Lovers group, and he reviews vintage jazz recordings on YouTube as Ken Micallef Jazz Vinyl Lover.