- 28 Aug 20
Raw, wry revamp from scorched-earth balladeer.
We are living through stripped-down times so what better moment for a record so sparse you can almost see its ribs glinting? When North Carolina singer Angel Olsen released her fourth album, All Mirrors, last October, many fans were shocked by her progression into orchestral maximalism. This was an LP swelling with emotion and with string adornments almost as super-sized as the angst, joy and shrugged-off indifference chronicled in the songs. It was amazing – but also a huge gearshift.
Oslen’s journey to this tableaux of gorgeous excess had been a long process. Along the way she had recorded what would become the spine of All Mirrors in a more bare-boned style, during a session in a century’s old church in the woodlands of America’s Pacific Northwest. Those earlier versions are now unveiled to a world that has changed beyond recognition since All Mirrors and, as we all draw breath, their pin-prick clarity crackles achingly and majestically.
Olsen’s songwriting has always walked a line between the melodramatic and the painfully brittle. That’s never been truer than on Whole New Mess, A world of heartache bubbles up between the cracks of ‘(New Love) Cassette’ and ‘(We Are All Mirrors)’, where her voice, bruised and low, is in contrast to bright, shimmering guitars.
These are stunning highlights. As are two new compositions. ‘Whole New Mess’ chronicles a period of on-the-road mania strip lit with “drug addiction, being addicted to alcohol, being on tour, not taking care of yourself” (sounds like production weekend at Hot Press). And then there is ‘Waving Smiling,’ a quiet gut-punch that knocks you sideways without raising a sweat. It’s Olsen in a nutshell: wry, understated, utterly devastating.