I must admit that I’d had Angel Olsen on my list of singer/songwriters to catch up on for some while. That changed when I heard the single ‘All Mirrors’ from her new album of the same name. I fell in love with the cross over between pop, rock and cinematic string arrangements. The album absolutely delivers on that promise and now I’m ready to bulk buy the back catalogue!
It will cause eyes to roll but there is a large slice of Kate Bush tropes with this album – not from the vocal performance but from the cinematic pop angle. Add that to a 60’s jangle rock sound that you could easily pinch from Elvis Presley and you have the sound palette for Angel Olsen’s new album. From the opening track ‘Lark’ we are introduced to full gambit of emotions. It’s a quiet start, shoop rock element and then it’s symphonic, rock out finale that swells and explodes into a dark symphony. It gives you a taste of everything to come aside from some of the synth work that permeates the single ‘All Mirrors’ that follows. That track is one of the best dark pop tracks I’ve heard in years. The way so many instruments feel like they are reflecting in reverse is sublime over the groove and strings that create unease. Stunning.
‘Too Easy’ and ‘New Love Cassette’ plays with Mitski vibes as a quaint rock number with curious undertones plays out. The latter track, in particular, keeps Olsen’s voice low and restrained as the strings and synths burst into fits of rage and desire. ‘Spring’ returns to swimmy rock with cleverly merged together pianos, guitars and synths to create something really quite beautiful. It is at this point I really started to think about the lyrics and realised each song deals with an individual feeling and how when you place a mirror against it, you start to wonder if the feeling is real or not. The beauty and serenity of ‘Spring’ feel very Stepford Wives to me. Surreal and fake as Angel’s lyrics march on wondering what part of her is the real one. I began to go back and relisten to other songs and find these similar patterns throughout.
That makes ‘What It Is’ feel quite crucial in the story of the album as Angel Olsen begins to call out things she doesn’t feel are real. The clarity can also be found sonically as the music is sharper and on point. This leads to the hugely cinematic ‘Impasse’ where the deadlock between all these thoughts collide and provide a warrior. She declares ‘I’m just living in my head. I’m working for the name. I’ve never lost anyone.’ The slow-motion power walk that is this so is staggering and shifts the tone of the album again.
Whilst this is a self-identity album, its also an (anti) romance album and ‘Tonight’ is the romantic ballad. It’s soft and blurry string arrangement and brushed percussion lets Olsen sing hushed and delicately. ‘Summer’ is a beautiful song melodically and reminds me of the wild west at times with its chord structure and guitar production. It’s also a light at the end of the tunnel as Angel declares ‘Took a while but I made it through’. That leaves two epic closing tracks in ‘Endgame’ and ‘Chance’. Both are symphonic and cinematic, the former more art-rock and the latter a bittersweet symphonic retro rock ballad. They complete the story of bittersweet reconnection and realisation and end the album perfectly.
Apparently this album has been recorded in two different ways – one acoustically and one with the 12 string orchestration. I’m fascinated to know how the acoustic versions sound but the power and force of this album comes from that cinematic edge and very reverb. This is a landmark piece of work from Angel Olsen and is easily up there for album of the year. A tour de force quite unlike anything else I’ve experienced in 2019. Buy it.
Recommended track: All Mirrors
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