Everyone is familiar with the saying ‘less is more,’ but in this day and age of needing the best of everything, does it really apply to anyone? What does it mean? The notion of subtlety is lost on most people who need to wear their achievements, and possessions as a badge of honour. Proof that this some how places them on a higher rung on the social status ladder. Proof that they are larger than life.
Danish singer/songwriter Agnes Obel understands the less is more philosophy and with just her voice, a piano, cello, the occasional violin, and viola and one guitar and Scottish harp, Obel’s sophomore record Aventine is one of the biggest and most emotionally charged releases of 2013.
There is no 32-piece orchestra, or a backing choir of 100. There isn’t a multitude of instruments layered on top of each other. Obel plays with subtlety. Her fingers lightly dance over the piano. Her voice never booming, but always commanding. Anne Müller gently accompanies Obel on the cello, while three tracks (The Curse, Pass Them By, Fivefold) see Mika Posen adding violin and viola, with Robert Kondorossi lending a soft guitar to “Pass Them By,” and Gillian Fleetwood introduces the Scottish harp on “Fuel to Fire” .
Obel noted that she “recorded everything quite closely, miking everything closely in a small room.” Listening to Aventine, it all sounds close to you. The music surrounds you, yet Obel has arranged it perfectly that it is not claustrophobic, but sparse. Each song is alive, growing from a single note to its full height, before dieing to make room for the next. Aventine is more than just a CD of recorded music. It has life. It grows, and lives with every listen.
Aventine is beautiful. It’s harrowing. In Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, Lady Macbeth said something that has stuck with me since I first read the play almost 10 years ago; “Look like th’ innocent flower, But be the serpent under ’t.” Aventine is the musical embodiment of that quote. It is seemingly delicate, and fragile, but the power and strength is felt from the very first notes of the opening instrumental piano piece, “Chord Left.”
Aventine is a lesson in subtlety. And a lesson for us all: Less truly is more.