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ANGEL OLSEN

Angel Olsen

Whole New Mess

    The time had come, Angel Olsen realized in the fading summer of 2018, to take her new songs out of the house. Olsen's 2016 marvel, My Woman, had been a career breakthrough, but it catalyzed a period of personal tumult, too: a painful breakup, an uneasy recovery, an inadequate reckoning. At home in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, Olsen penned songs that finally grappled with these troubles, particularly love:"how forever is too much to promise, how relationships can lock us into static versions of ourselves, how you can go through hell just to make someone else happy. These heartsore explorations shape Whole New Mess, Olsen's first solo album since her 2012 debut and an emotional portrait so intimate and vulnerable you can hear her find meaning in these crises in real-time.

    At least nine of the eleven songs on Whole New Mess should sound familiar to anyone who has heard All Mirrors, Olsen's grand 2019 masterpiece that earned high honors on prestigious year-end lists and glossy spreads in stylish magazines. "Lark," "Summer," "Chance" - they are all here, at least in some skeletal form and with slightly different titles. But these are not the demos for All Mirrors. Instead, Whole New Mess is its own record with its own immovable mood, with Olsen working through her open wounds and raw nerves with just a few guitars and some microphones, isolated in a century-old church in the Pacific Northwest. If the lavish orchestral arrangements and cinematic scope of All Mirrors are the sound of Olsen preparing her scars for the wider world to see, Whole New Mess is the sound of her first figuring out their shape, making sense for herself of these injuries.

    Considered alongside All Mirrors, Whole New Mess is a poignant and pointed reminder that songs are more than mere collections of words, chords, and even melodies. They are webs of moods and moments and ideas, qualities that can change from one month to the next and can say just as much as the perfect progression or an exquisite chord. In that sense, these 11 songs - "solitary, frank, and unflinching examinations of what it's like to love, lose, and survive -" are entirely new. This is the sound of Angel Olsen, sorting through the kind of trouble we've all known, as if just for herself and whoever else needs it.

    The descent into darkness is a trope we find time again across history, literature and film. But there’s also an abyss above. There’s a winding white staircase that goes ever upward into the great unknown — each step, each turn, requiring a greater boldness and confidence than the one before. This is the journey on which we find Angel Olsen.

    Olsen’s artistic beginnings as a collaborator shifted seamlessly to her magnificent, cryptic-to-cosmic solo work, and then she formed bands to play her songs, and her stages and audiences grew exponentially. But all along, Olsen was more concerned with a different kind of path, and on her vulnerable, Big Mood new album, All Mirrors, we can see her taking an introspective deep dive towards internal destinations and revelations. In the process of making this album, she found a new sound and voice, a blast of fury mixed with hard won self-acceptance.

    “In every way —from the making of it, to the words, to how I feel moving forward— this record is about owning up to your darkest side,” Olsen said. “Finding the capacity for new love and trusting change, even when you feel like a stranger. This is a record about facing yourself and learning to forgive what you see. It is about losing empathy, trust, love for destructive people. It is about walking away from the noise and realizing that you can have solitude and peace in your own thoughts, that your thoughts alone can be just as valid, if not more.”

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Barry says: Swooning synth strokes, huge cavernous percussion and snappy mid-heavy bass form a fittingly retrophilic cushion for Olsen's always hypnotic voice, in this instance its commanding presence soars above the backdrop, both haunting and uplifting. 'All Mirrors' is a triumph.

    "Anyone reckless enough to have typecast Angel Olsen according to 2013’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness is in for a rethink with her third album, MY WOMAN. The crunchier, blown-out production of the former is gone, but that fire is now burning wilder. Her disarming, timeless voice is even more front-and-center. Yet, the strange, raw power and slowly unspooling incantations of her previous efforts remain.

    Over two previous albums, she gave us reverb-shrouded poetic swoons, shadowy folk, grunge-pop band workouts and haunting, finger-picked epics. MY WOMAN is an exhilarating complement to her past work, and one for which Olsen recalibrated her writing/recording approach and methods to enter a new music-making phase.

    As the record evolves, one gets the sense that the “My Woman” of the title is Olsen herself, absolutely in command but also willing to bend with the influence of collaborators and circumstances. An intuitively smart, warmly communicative and fearlessly generous record, MY WOMAN speaks to everyone. That it might confound expectation is just another of its strengths."

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Barry says: Whether she is banging out swooning gothic eyeshadow-pop choruses or walking us through rural America with swinging slide-guitar laden finger-clickers, Angel Olsen constantly manages with aplomb. The Melancholy lilt in some parts only serves exacerbate the impact of her more driven passages. This isn't a cheery listen, but it is touching and masterful. Highly recommended.

    Received an 8.0 rating from Pitchfork!!!! After her highly-acclaimed debut Strange Cacti landed in the hands of listeners, it became very obvious the special presence Angel Olsen offered to listeners. She had a fresh edge to her sound, a warm and wonderful range, and a level of skill and charm out of this world. Obviously, fans ate it up. And now here we are, a mere 2 years since her initial Bathetic release—the original cassette version of Strange Cacti. The release of Half Way Home is something everyone has been excited for. We've always wanted to see and hear what Angel brings out through her music. Half Way Home is a continuation of her elegance brought forth.

    Many of the superlatives describing Angel Olsen refer to how seemingly little it takes for her to leave an audience speechless, even spellbound. But Olsen has never been as timid as those descriptors imply, and the noisy, fiery hints in her earlier work find a fuller expression on her newest LP, Burn Your Fire for No Witness. Here, Olsen sings with full-throated exultation, admonition, and bold, expressive melody. Also, with the help of producer John Congleton, her music now crackles with a churning, rumbling low end and a brighter energy.

    Angel Olsen began singing as a young girl in St. Louis, where she explored the remarkable range of her voice and the places it could take her songwriting. Her self-released debut EP, Strange Cacti, belied both that early period of discovery and her Midwestern roots. Cautious and homespun on the one hand, the EP transported us to a mystical, unrecognizable world on the other, and it garnered extensive praise for its enigmatic beauty. Olsen then went further on Half Way Home, her first full-length album (released on Bathetic Records), which mined essential themes while showcasing a more developed voice. Olsen dared to be more personal.

    After extensive touring, Olsen eventually settled for a time in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood, where she created "a collection of songs grown in a year of heartbreak, travel, and transformation." The new songs go on to tell us to leave, or to high-five a lover who is lacking, or to dance our way up and out of sorrow. Many of them also remain essentially unchanged from their bare beginnings. In leaving them so intact, a more self-assured Olsen is opening up to us, allowing us to be in the room with her at the very genesis of these songs, when the thread of creation is most vulnerable and least filtered. Our reward for entering this room are many head-turning moments and the powerful, unsettling recognition of ourselves in the weave of her songs.

    This act of meaning-making recurs as a theme throughout the album, as the sublimating response to the power of negativity. In the song, "Stars", for example, Olsen wishes to "have the voice of everything" and in a moment of hatefulness and hurt realizes that the strength of fury results in the power she had been seeking all along. Thankfully for us, Olsen has decided to channel a lot of this newfound power into the ethereal, hypnotic performances of her new and revealing songs, sharing with us the full grace and beauty of her transformative moments.


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