Her first album, Philharmonics, was released by PIAS Recordings on 4 October 2010 in Europe. Philharmonics was certified gold in June 2011 by the Belgian Entertainment Association (BEA) for sales of 10,000 units. At the Danish Music Awards in November 2011, Agnes Obel won five prizes: Best Album, Best Pop Release, Best Debut Artist, Best Female Artist and Best Songwriter.
Obel, and her younger brother Holger, grew up in an unconventional environment. Her father had three children from another marriage. He loved to collect strange objects and instruments. Her mother, Katja Obel, was a jurist but also a brilliant musician. She used to play Bartók and Chopin on the piano. With a house full of sound and music : Agnes learned to play the piano at a very young age. About her learning, Obel says: "I had a classical piano teacher who told me that I shouldn't play what I didn't like. So I just played what I liked. I was never forced to play anything else."
During her childhood, Obel found inspiration in Jan Johansson's work. Johansson's songs, European folk tunes done in a jazzy style, have influenced the young musician a lot.
In 1990, Obel joined a small band as a singer and bass guitar player. The group appeared in a festival and recorded some tunes.
In 1994, Obel had a small part in the short film The Boy Who Walked Backwards / Drengen der gik baglæns by Thomas Vinterberg. Her brother, Holger Thaarup, played the main character in the movie. Credited as Agnes Obel, she appears in two scenes. She plays a pupil who shares her table with the new student Andreas (Holger Thaarup). She attended high school at Det frie Gymnasium, a free school where she was able to play a good deal of music. However, she quickly dropped out of school. "At seventeen, (...) I met a man who was running a studio. I gave up quickly my musical studies to learn sound techniques."
Agnes Obel has lived in Berlin since 2006 with boyfriend Alex Brüel Flagstad. Flagstad is a photographer and animation artist who filmed and directed the music video for "Riverside" from Obel's debut album Philharmonics (2010). Flagstad has also directed videos for titles from her LP Aventine (2013), including "Dorian", "The Curse" and "Aventine".