Jagjaguwar – October 4th
On her fourth full-length album, All Mirrors, Angel Olsen seems to take a more pared-back approach. It’s certainly less riotous and rocky than the critically acclaimed MY WOMAN, released back in 2016. But that’s not to say it’s less powerful. However, it shifts and swerves so often, that it’s difficult to exactly define.
She sounds more vulnerable and less armoured on this record. With that comes a sense that we’re invited in on a secret, intimate relationship. Tales of heartbreak and fading love are delivered through both soft whispers and bold operatics. There are moments of fury, but they’re counterposed by what seems like sudden acceptance and relaxation.
Over shimmering melodies and sparse baselines Olsen gently intones her lyrics. When you least expect it, huge string arrangements and bellowing synths swell. Threadbare lines are coloured in by lavish instrumentation. Lead single ‘All Mirrors’ navigates between the perception of what one wants to see and reality with weighty synth and vacillating percussion. On ‘Too Easy’ her honeyed vocals wander over wavering beats. ‘Spring’s piano start is more than evocative of Hey Jude, and quickly gets trippy, whilst ‘Endgame’ is ghostly and frosty.
The songs were originally recorded stripped back and solo (in remote Anacortes, Washington) then recorded again with a full band and more ambitious, fleshed-out version with producer John Congleton. It’s not quite as big as that sounds; there’s plenty of dusty space and sparsity.
It’s a step-change, for sure. “All Mirrors is a very bold and unexpected move for me,” says Olsen. “I guess you could say some bold and unexpected things have happened in my life. It feels like part of my writing has come back from the past, and another part of it was waiting to exist.”
The way she exists on All Mirrors doesn’t astound in the same way as her previous work. It’s polished and cathartic but doesn’t fully grab you like ‘Shut Up, Kiss Me’, for example. There’s a lot of tension in the album, which occasionally veers into uneasy dissonance. As an exploration into love and relationships, mostly unrequited, it does its job. But we know Olsen is not just another synth-heavy hazy female songwriter. She is capable of writing pop-rock belters. Is it a cop-out to say that we wanted more of the same?
Photo credit: Cameron McCool