Angel Olsen, a Chicago-based singer-songwriter who had worked with
Will Oldham, debuted with the cassette
Strange Cacti (2010).
Her trembling and howling tones of her voice, somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Edith Piaf,
matured on Half Way Home (Bathetic, 2012).
She can sing practically anything and turn it into an adventure, whether
the slow-waltzing Safe In The Womb
or the country & western lament Miranda.
She rises over the flamenco guitar and maracas of The Sky Opened Up
and plunges into the delicate
lullaby of You Are Song.
She even transports the listener back into
the Brill Building of the 1950s with the catchy The Waiting, and
the shimmering melody of Free evokes the jangling folk-rock of the hippy era (and the coda has a vocal flight worthy of an opera soprano).
The seven-minute Lonely Universe blends Chris Isaak's self-flagellation and a slow-motion version of the refrain of the Rolling Stones' Ruby Tuesday.
Her single Sweet Dreams (2013) left behind the austere acoustic arrangements for an electric quasi-psychedelic rocking format.
Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Jagjaguwar, 2014) was the rock'n'roll
counterpart to the previous album's folk style.
Standout Hi-Five sounds like a yodeling version of Norman Greenbaum's stomping Spirit In The Sky with the jug replaced by guitar fuzz.
Forgiven/Forgotten even boasts the Velvet Underground's manic pounding beat.
If High & Wild is a half-baked garage rave-up, the backing does benefit
the solemn hymn-like crescendo of Dance Slow Decades.
Not rocking at all, instead, is the seven-minute White Fire, similar in tone to Leonard Cohen's So Long Marianne, just more dejected and sedated; and Enemy is the sparest of acoustic ballads, and perhaps the emotional peak of the album.
This was the typical "transitional" album.
My Woman (Jagjaguwar, 2016)
She sounds like a second rate Kate Bush imitator
when singing over the electronic arrangements of Intern,
and like an aspiring soul singer in the
sophisticated pop-jazz ballad Those Were The Days.
Give it Up has a decent guitar riff but it gets diluted in a silly solo,
and the other guitar-driven rocking song, Shut Up Kiss Me, sounds
amateurish and incomplete.
Her shouting in the psychedelic crescendo of Not Gonna Kill You
mainly proves the distance that still separates her from the vocal power
of a singer like Grace Slick.
The two longer songs are rather ineffective: the eight-minute Sister
is a long narrative with a nasty guitar solo but obviously can't compete
with Neil Young's long rants, although it
borrows the format.
The seven-minute Woman is even more dependent on her vocal delivery
because of the tedious electronic arrangement.
It sounds like the idea was to make the album sound more professional
(and a` la mode) but the result is exactly the opposite: much of this album
sounds trivial and immature.
The closing piano ballad Pops is totally pointless.
The musician of All Mirrors (Jagjaguwar, 2019) was hardly related to
the artist of Half Way Home.
Produced by John Congleton,
the glossy production of mellotron, strings and loud percussion
(arranged by Ben Babbitt and Jherek Bischoff) sounds like sheer
A good example is What It Is, possibly the standout, that punches a potentially intriguing T.Rex strut with blasts of percussion and tornadoes of strings.
This vice leads to the
ridiculous magniloquence of the torch song Impasse and other
embarrassing concoctions. The most confusing of all is probably
All Mirrors, buried in whirling strings and pounding drums.
Lark sounds like a collaboration between
Stevie Nicks of the Fleetwood Mac
and Kate Bush.
Endgame is a smooth orchestral ballad in the vein of Burt Bacharach with brass arrangements by Nathaniel Walcott, besides the string arrangements of Ben Babbitt: at least this ballad doesn't
pretend to be anything else.
Obnoxious synths ruin the nostalgic moments: the catchy ditty Spring
and the dreamy ditty Too Easy (which otherwise evokes the French ye-ye girls of Francoise Hardy's generation).
The arrangements work only in a couple of songs: the
electronic effects push the
ethereal lullaby New Love Cassette into magical
Summer has the pace and the atmosphere of a western-movie Ennio Morricone soundtrack.