Agnes Obel’s “Familiar” and Fred again..’s “ten”

Right around the time in the northern hemisphere when the afternoons darkened far too early—shortly before the days began growing longer in the light—I found myself cozying up to two songs: “Familiar” from the Danish singer-songwriter Agnes Obel and “ten” from the producer Fred again.. and vocalist Jozzy.

Both tracks radiated with colors that contrasted the gray days outside my window and made the experience of listening to them all the more inviting. This wasn’t a matter of music as an escape—using a song as a portal to another season—but rather that each song’s mood brimmed with a beguiling atmosphere, and I wanted to paint my days with the hues I found there.

Obel builds “Familiar” around a trance-like piano, its insistent plunk codifying into a melodic metronome that infuses the track with an almost spectral rhythm. Against that framing, Obel’s breathy alto begins its steady ascent on the verses until she reaches the chorus, where she pitches her vocals down to deepen and blur her instrument. The effect transforms the song into a heady duet, though both sides emanate from Obel herself and complicate the back-and-forth at play.

Obel further juxtaposes the ongoing dance between high and low and thickens the texture of “Familiar” with a strings section. There’s a glimmer of harp at times, but it’s the cello that really takes up space. When she pitches her voice on the chorus, the cello backs her, magnifying the richness of the moment. Later in the final forty seconds, it claims the full glare of the spotlight with a cathartic solo.

“ten” also sets a pacing rhythm from the jump—a heightened energy that contrasts Jozzy’s ponderous vocals. Throughout the song, Jozzy is a narrator caught in his head. “Ten days in a foreign ends without you here / Dead weight I’ve been holding on, I might let go here,” he sings about traveling and carrying the memory of another around with him.

Fred again.. layers in spritely synths that levitate the heaviness of the subject matter, but he also builds a subtle warp into Jozzy’s voice on the chorus (“ten days, ten days, ten days”), installing a note of regret into his delivery so that Jozzy sounds unsure about whether he can surmount the distance he details. Near the halfway mark, Fred again.. slows down the tempo, almost changing the signature entirely for the briefest of moments, before picking up the original beat and setting the track off again like a rollercoaster loosed on the track.

It sometimes happens in the streaming era that you discover two completely unrelated songs that create a warm and welcome space for you. “Familiar” and “ten” aren’t necessarily songs that complement one another in any other setting, but discovering them on the same day has wed them forever in my mind because together they build a vibrant soundscape that lends these gray, gloomy days a buoyant spark.