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ANGEL OLSEN

Angel Olsen

Forever Means

    'Big Time' brought Angel Olsen to a deeper, truer sense of self than ever before. Borne from the twin stars of grief and love, the album delivered beautiful sense of certainty, the sure-footed sound of an artist fully, finally at home with herself. But within that wisdom comes the realization that there is no finish line, no destination or static end point to life while you’re living it, and Forever Means collects songs from the Big Time sessions that hold this common theme. They are, in Olsen’s words, “in search of something else.”

    “I was somewhere traveling,” says Olsen, “stopped for a few days and wandering the city, and I was thinking ‘what does ‘forever’ really mean? What are the things I’m seeking in friendship or love, and how can ‘forever’ be attainable if we’re always changing?’” Sitting with the reality of that entropy, Olsen realized “maybe the secret to ongoing love is to embrace change as part of love itself, that forever must have something to do with playing, looking, constantly searching things out for yourself, never letting yourself think you’re finished learning or exploring.” ‘Forever’”, says Olsen, “remains curious while trying also to be kind and honest.”

    All this packs into the four precious songs that comprise Forever Means, songs from Olsen’s roads traveled and the ones ahead. “Nothing’s free / like breaking free” Olsen sings, comfortable with the costs of her clarity, her heart and voice fixed on the present, the future, the not-yet-known and the beautifully unknowable.

    TRACK LISTING

    SIDE A:
    1) Nothing’s Free
    2) Forever Means

    SIDE B:
    3) Time Bandits
    4) Holding On

    Fresh grief, like fresh love, has a way of sharpening our vision and bringing on painful clarifications. No matter how temporary we know these states to be, the vulnerability and transformation they demand can overpower the strongest among us. Then there are the rare, fertile moments when both occur, when mourning and limerence heighten, complicate and explain each other; the songs that comprise Angel Olsen’s Big Time were forged in such a whiplash.

    Big Time is an album about the expansive power of new love, but this brightness and optimism is tempered by a profound and layered sense of loss. During Olsen’s process of coming to terms with her queerness and confronting the traumas that had been keeping her from fully accepting herself, she felt it was time to come out to her parents, a hurdle she’d been avoiding for some time. “Finally, at the ripe age of 34, I was free to be me,” she said. Three days later, her father died and shortly after her mother passed away.

    The shards of this grief—the shortening of her chance to finally be seen more fully by her parents— are scattered throughout the album. Three weeks after her mother’s funeral she was in the studio, recording this incredibly wise and tender new album. Loss has long been a subject of Olsen’s elegiac songs, but few can write elegies with quite the reckless energy as she.

    If that bursting-at-the-seams, running downhill energy has come to seem intractable to her work, this album proves Olsen is now writing from a more rooted place of clarity. She’s working with an elastic, expansive mastery of her voice—both sonically and artistically. These are songs not just about transformational mourning, but of finding freedom and joy in the privations as they come.

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Barry says: Angel Olsen has always had a unique skill in writing melodies, but it's here on the heartbreaking 'Big Time' that her command of melody and atmosphere come together into the perfect whole. It's beautiful and sombre in parts, and downright jubilant in others. Beautifully balanced and achingly affectionate and tender.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. All The Good Times
    2. Big Time
    3. Dream Thing
    4. Ghost On
    5. All The Flowers
    6. Right Now
    7. This Is How It Works
    8. Go Home
    9. Through The Fires
    10. Chasing The Sun

    Angel Olsen

    Aisles

      While spending time trying to conquer the audio of live-stream athome performances, I got better acquainted with my friend Adam McDaniel, an engineer and producer in Asheville, NC. Adam and I had known each other for years. When the band was a bit smaller I’d often rent his studio, Drop of Sun, for pre-recording / pre tour rehearsals. Summer 2020 was tough for many reasons. But Adam and his wife Emily opened their home to me and made it a safe space to create and let go. I had an idea to record some covers and bring some of the band into the mix, or add other players. I wanted to record 80’s songs that I’d overheard walking the aisles at the grocery store, and I needed to laugh and have fun and be a little less serious about the recording process in general. I thought about completely changing some of the songs and turning them inside out.

      I’d heard “Gloria” by Laura Branigan for the first time at a family Christmas gathering and I was amazed at all the aunts who got up to dance. I imagined them all dancing and laughing in slow motion, and that’s when I got the idea to slow the entire song down and try it out in this way. I felt that “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats could be reinterpreted to be about this time of quarantine and the fear of being around anyone or having too much fun. It made me wonder, is it safe to laugh or dance or be free of it all for just a moment?

      I know it’s not really in my history to do something unintentional or just for the hell of it but my connection to these songs is pretty straightforward, I just wanted to have a little fun and be a little more spontaneous, and I think I needed to remember that I could!

      STAFF COMMENTS

      Barry says: It's Angel's turn on the 80's tip this time, with her voice perfectly fitting the melancholic swell of synths and slo-mo takes on these well recognised classics. There's just enough here to recognise the originals, but with Olsen's wonderfully athletic vocals and inventive production they take on a new life entirely.

      TRACK LISTING

      1. Gloria
      2. Eyes Without A Face
      3. Safety Dance
      4. If You Leave
      5. Forever Young

      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.

        STAFF COMMENTS

        Barry says: 'Whole New Mess' isn't as much different versions of the same songs as it is a retelling of the entire context they were given in. Beautifully raw at times, and even more poignant than the already mindblowing 'All Mirrors', if that was the story, this is the equal and opposite other side of the story. An absolutely necessary listen.

        TRACK LISTING

        Whole New Mess
        Too Easy (bigger Than Us)
        (new Love) Cassette
        (we Are All Mirrors)
        (summer Song)
        Waiving, Smiling
        Tonight (without You)
        Lark Song
        Impasse (workin’ For The Name)
        Chance (forever Love)
        What It Is (what It Is)

        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.

        TRACK LISTING

        SIDE A
        1) Lark
        2) All Mirrors

        SIDE B
        3) Too Easy
        4) New Love Cassette
        5) Spring

        SIDE C
        6) What It Is
        7) Impasse
        8) Tonight

        SIDE D
        9) Summer
        10) Endgame
        11) Chance

        Angel Olsen

        Phases

          How does one best describe Angel Olsen? From the lo-fi, sparse folk-melancholy of her 2010 EP, ‘Strange Cacti’, to the electrified, polished rock ‘n’ roll bursting from 2016’s beloved and acclaimed ‘MY WOMAN’, Olsen has refused to succumb to a single genre, expectation or vision. Impossible to pin down, Olsen navigates the world with her remarkable, symphonic voice and a propensity for narrative, her music growing into whatever shape best fits to tell the story.

          ‘Phases is a collection of Olsen’s work culled from the past several years, including a number of never-before-released tracks. ‘Fly On Your Wall’, previously contributed to the online-only, anti-Trump fundraiser ‘Our First 100 Days’, opens ‘Phases’, before seamlessly slipping into ‘Special’, a brand new song from the ‘MY WOMAN’ recording sessions. Both ‘How Many Disasters’ and ‘Sans’ are first-time listens: home-recorded demos that have never been released, leaning heavily on Olsen’s arresting croon and lonesome guitar.

          The B-sides compilation is both a testament to Olsen’s enormous musical range and a tidy compilation of tracks that have previously been elusive in one way or another.

          Balancing tenacity and tenderness, ‘Phases’ acts as a deep-dive for longtime fans, as well as a fitting introduction to Olsen’s sprawling sonics for the uninitiated.

          STAFF COMMENTS

          Barry says: 'Phases' provides the linking thread between the varying facets of Olsen's songwriting, with B-sides and unreleased odes, come a further understanding of Olsen's innate songwriting ability and how important even these previously unused pieces can be! Lovely stuff.

          TRACK LISTING

          1 Fly On Your Wall
          2 Special
          3 Only With You
          4 All Right Now
          5 Sans
          6 Sweet Dreams
          7 California
          8 Tougher Then The Rest
          9 For You
          10 How Many Disasters
          11 May As Well
          12 Endless Road

          "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.

          TRACK LISTING

          1 Intern
          2 Never Be Mine
          3 Shut Up Kiss Me
          4 Give It Up
          5 Not Gonna Kill You
          6 Heart Shaped Face
          7 Sister
          8 Those Were The Days
          9 Woman
          10 Pops

          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.

          TRACK LISTING

          Acrobat
          The Waiting
          Safe In The Womb
          Lonely Universe
          Can't Wait Until Tomorrow
          Always Half Strange
          You Are Song
          Miranda
          The Sky Openend Up
          Free
          Tiniest Seed

          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.

          TRACK LISTING

          1. Unfucktheworld
          2. Forgiven/Forgotten
          3. Hi-Five
          4. White Fire
          5. High & Wild
          6. Lights Out
          7. Stars
          8. Iota
          9. Dance Slow Decades
          10. Enemy
          11. Windows


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