Agnes Obel

An introduction to Agnes Obel: Danish singer, pianist, and composer

Agnes Caroline Thaarup Obel is just one of the many iconic people that Denmark is famous for. Born in Gentofte, Copenhagen, Obel is an inspirational singer, songwriter, and musician, with an incredible sound and an amazing story. 

Agnes currently lives in Berlin, but her Scandinavian roots shine through in many of her songs and mannerisms. Aside from her incredible music, Obel is also well-known for her poetic way with words. 

In one interview with the Standard and David Symth, she said:

“Sometimes, I feel like musical experiences are more real than what we define as the real world.” Agnes sees music as an incredibly honest and transparent human experience. Here’s everything you need to know about this wonderful artist. 

Where is Agnes Obel from? A brief history

Born on the 28thof October 1980, Agnes comes from Gentofte, in Copenhagen, Denmark. This Danish singer, musician, and songwriter released her first album at the age of 30 and earned a certified gold record by the next year. 

Since then, Agnes has made a huge impact on the musical world, winning numerous awards and accolades. In the Danish Music Awards of 2011, just one year after entering the scene, she won five prizes, including Best Debut Artists and Best Album. 

Agnes grew up with her younger brother, Holger, and three children from her father’s other marriage. Obel’s father loved creating strange instruments and objects, and her mother, Katja Obel was a musician and a jurist. 

Agnes, like her mother, learned to play the piano while she was still young, with a classical teacher who said she should never play what she didn’t like. 

Obel attended schools where children had plenty of scope to focus on their creative endeavors. In an interview with the Guardian, she said that she wrote her first songs on a piano in her school hall full of cigarette butts. 

Despite plenty of creative freedom at school, Agnes dropped out before finishing and joined a program for younger, troubled kids who wanted to become record producers. 

She made friends with people setting up record studios and learned how to record. It was then that Obel fell in love with the idea of sculpting her own sounds. 

In the early years, Agnes found inspiration for her music from Jan Johansson, an artist known for folk tunes with a jazzy style. In 1990, she joined her first small band as a bass guitar player and singer

Over the years, Agnes discovered her inner musician, citing influences like Claude Debussy and PJ Harvey as inspiration sources. She was obsessed with artists capable of creating dramatic landscapes with music. 

Obel’s father plays a part in her inspiration too. In her third album, Citizen of Glass, she uses a vast 1920s synthesizer called a Trautonium.

Agnes Obel
Credit: kDamo

Musical success: Agnes Obel discography

Many of Agnes Obel’s alums are about experimentation and telling a story. The debut album, Philharmonics, which launched in 2010 was entirely self-written, with the exception of the John Cale song, “I keep a close watch.” 

Much of Obel’s music is extremely atmospheric, with melancholy ballads, and an inspiring mixture of instruments that hark back to her history with unusual instruments. 

Her first album was a huge success, especially in Denmark, where the record quickly achieved double platinum standing. 

In 2013, Agnes went on to release the impressionistic album Aventine, which became another commercial success, with chart presence in nine countries. 

The third studio album, Citizen of Glass, allowed Obel to experiment with changes to her voice, and new types of music. In 2018, Obel struck a deal with the Deutsche Grammaphon company and created a compilation. 

In 2020, Obel released her fourth full-length album, entirely self-recorded: Myopia. 

Agnes’ first two albums were rich, dark, and intimate in style — the work of an artist discovering herself and her identity through the sorrowful song of a piano. These releases made Agnes a top-five artist in France, Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands. 

Citizen of Glass was a massive departure from the artist’s original style as the first concept artist she created. She wanted to create a unique audio landscape with Citizen of Glass — something she definitely accomplished. 

Every song went through some form of processing, with one in particular referencing her family. 

Agnes Obel albums: An introduction

Agnes Obel albums are award-winning masterpieces with plenty of popularity worldwide. Obel won numerous awards for her first album, and the IMPALA album of the year award for Citizen of Glass in 2016. 

Here’s a quick insight into Anges’ albums…

Agnes Obel

Philharmonics (2010)

Philharmonics is Agnes Obel’s first album, produced and published in 2010. Obel wrote, played, sang, and produced all of the music herself, aside from one song. 

She said that “orchestral and symphonic music never interested” her, and that she wanted to use music to tell a story in her album. 

According to Obel, the piano and her singing are two very separate but connected concepts in her music. 

When talking about recording music in Denmark, she noted that Copenhagen has a very musical and professional environment, whereas Berlin (where she lives now) is more laidback. 

Philharmonics helped Agnes to win the 2012 European Border Breakers award, celebrating new talents in Europe who have connected with audiences beyond their home country. 

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Agnes Obel

Aventine (2013)

Obel began working on album number 2 in 2011. During this time, she began experimenting with “new pieces” that were largely instrumental. She felt more inclined in her second album to let her piano do the talking. 

When producing Aventine, Agnes said she didn’t want to “disturb the melody with too many stories.” She recorded everything quite closely, with all sounds organized in a small room. Aventine was a chance for Obel to continue growing as an artist. 

It’s a beautiful record, where it’s clear to see that Obel is taking her time to let the beauty of every sound shine through. In October 2014, Obel released a deluxe version of the album with 3 new songs. 

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Agnes Obel

Citizen of Glass (2016)

During the 2014 tour, Agnes began working on album number 3. This was also around the time that Agnes’ father died. 

When speaking about the third album, Agnes said that she wanted the record to sound exactly like her vision of “glass”. 

During an interview about the album, she said that there’s something “powerful in pushing yourself” over comfort boundaries and borders. 

When her father died, Agnes found writing music for Citizen of Glass cathartic. She said she couldn’t stop writing, and that every song felt personal to her. 

The music in Citizen of Glass is a fantastic insight into the artist’s decision to expand her musical boundaries. 

The use of new instrument pays homage to her late father, who she says taught her everything she knew about music. 

There’s a lot of percussion in this album, with a much louder power rhythm and new sounds to Agnes’ voice, as she plays with processing the sounds. 

Some of the songs in Citizen of Glass feature a male voice like an echo of Agnes’ sound. 

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Agnes Obel

Myopia (2020)

Myopia is the most recent album from Agnes Obel, announced on the 29thof October 2019, and released in 2020. The Myopia album further stretches the cinematic scope of Obel’s sound, while lyrically exploring the inner working of the human psyche. 

Myopia is the first album commissioned by the Blue Note Records company in North America as well as Deutsche Grammophon. 

Myopia is an immersive album that comes with a lot of interesting sounds to explore. She described the experience of creating the album to building a bubble around herself

In an interview, Obel went on to say that she believes creating music means cutting yourself off from the outside world, so you can disappear into what you’re doing. 

The songs of Myopia explore a lot of ideas that are close to Obel herself. 

For instance, the Broken Sleep song addresses the feelings of a close friend of Anges’ who struggled with depression and issues with sleep. 

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Get to know Agnes Obel

Agnes Obel is an inspiring Danish artist with incredible albums to explore. Her music moves through a clear evolution over the years, with new sounds appearing all of the time. 

Agnes seems to learn from every album she creates and put more of herself into each new song. 

With inspirations like Erik Satie, Roy Orbison, and even Edgar Allan Poe guiding her, Agnes takes a unique approach to her music. Many music fans describe elements of Kate Bush and Enya in her sound, which may be why she’s gained so much attention throughout Europe. 

Today, Agnes is an iconic figure in Denmark, as well as throughout Berlin, where she lives now. If you haven’t checked out one of her wonderful albums yet, we recommend that you grab your headphones and give them a try. 

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