Raised in Copenhagen but based in Berlin, Agnes Obel is well placed to capture an old-world, Brothers Grimm mystery in her music. The follow-up to 2010′s European hit Philharmonics, Aventine demands that the listener lean in close, closer, closer, to hear what it has to say before suddenly snapping shut over their head. Yet while Obel’s compositions are no stranger to the theatrical, their pizzicato strings and petticoat-rustling pianos generating an ominous crackle of tension, the singer-songwriter is careful to keep her smoke and mirrors under tight control in case they sink into melodrama.
Satie-like piano sketches “Fivefold,” “Tokka” and “Chord Left” set the tone and the pace, their antique stateliness slowly cracking to reveal something more disturbing, more disordered. At times, Obel sounds like a softer Nina Nastasia — especially on the high-tension strings of “Run Cried the Crawling” — but there are also smudges and traces of Cat Power and on the looming “Dorian,” Bat for Lashes. Despite these echoes, however, Obel carefully defines her own space, picking her way through the wintery fairytale woods of “Pass Them By” or “The Curse” to tell her own story, ending unknown.