Album review: Ingeborg von Agassiz astounds on debut LP
Let's just skip to the headline: Ingeborg von Agassiz' debut album is one of the best locally-made albums in the history of locally-made albums.
It's true. No hyperbole. "O Giver of Dreams" ticks all the boxes, and no one really does that, not even the really good, really popular acts from the area. It's such an impressive record, it seems as if it's been beamed in from some parallel Duluth where an idiosyncratic musician working totally on her own can produce a world-class collection of songs that one could imagine finding a much larger audience almost without hype, almost solely on the strength of the artistic vision that brought it into being. But that parallel Duluth actually exists, and we're living in it.
This record is so good, it's almost embarrassing to say how good it is, because nothing ever is this good. Not even the good stuff.
"Fully-formed" is perhaps one way to describe von Agassiz. Without knowing anything much about her — her album arrived at the News Tribune sans hyped-up one-sheet, thank all the gods — it's clear within only a few songs that she is in command of her own weird musical spaceship, and every note, every lyric, every CD-booklet illustration is something she brought into being. (Jeez, she even made her CD packaging something worth looking at, which is a huge accomplishment in and of itself in 2018.) If anyone in this region has released a debut album that is this strong and singular out of the gate, it's one this reviewer hasn't heard.
How to explain? It's like this: you listen to von Agassiz' music, and you marvel at it on numerous levels. To wit: the songs are incredibly catchy, layered, melodic nuggets that reveal themselves bit by bit, never get boring for a moment, and never outstay their welcome. Then there are the performances. Von Agassiz' voice is a treat, and she hits nary a bum note on the whole record while still allowing her singing to be full of character. She layers her voice, building towers of harmony and texture, and it's something to behold.
The production is another shocker — scouring the liner notes reveals that it was all recorded by von Agassiz herself, which means that she is easily one of the most talented recording engineers in town. The record sounds for all the world like a big-budget oddball-pop album, something that someone spent tens of thousands of dollars on, something that was recorded in a bustling Hollywood studio. But it's not.
This isn't to say, though, that it's a big, compressed Katy Perry album. What it is is something that easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder with artists like Tune-Yards or Joanna Newsom in the way that it is confident without being obnoxious about it, or in the way it's weird without being overly silly, or in the way it's dark without being Gothic. It reminds you of children's music while also reminding you of "Gangsta's Paradise." How is this possible without being dopey?
Even the way von Agassiz swears is exciting. She's dropping f-bombs and s-bombs on this thing, a record that seems to celebrate youth and innocence and the natural world and therefore is probably something that most people would try not to sully with vulgarity, but her artistic impulse is to be herself, and so it's marvelous. It also recalls Elliott Smith's work in the way that she can undercut her own ornateness with a foulmouthed moment here and there.
Notice how yours truly hasn't even named a single song or quoted a single lyric? That's because there's just not the space here to go into how wondrous and evocative the music and words are. Throughout, von Agassiz sounds like she's effortlessly weaving a web, creating a world for herself and whoever wants to tag along, and it's nothing short of a towering achievement. It's a must-listen.
It's hard to imagine how "O Giver of Dreams" doesn't end up being the best album a local artist releases in 2018. Highly recommended in every way.
Artist: Ingeborg von Agassiz
Album: "O Giver of Dreams"
Produced by: Ingeborg von Agassiz
Personnel: Ingeborg von Agassiz
Upcoming show: 7:30 p.m. tonight with Toby Thomas Churchill and Anatomy of Ruminants at Red Herring Lounge, 208 E. 1st. St.