The last ten years have clocked in pretty quickly, though that may be what happens with age. Time can sometimes be harsh. It doesn’t seem like it was the beginning of the decade when a friend would ask the fateful question, “have you ever heard Angel Olsen?” It was 2012, and we hadn’t. In fact few had. But that was the year we began to realize that while her early works were just the beginning, there was more to Angel Olsen than most singer songwriters. Emboldened with a sharp wit and a voice that ranges from the sad to the hopeful, we were hooked from the first listen.
Couple those vocals with deeply personal words and tones that tumble between indie rock and singer songwriter, Olsen has come full circle in the last seven years. With all of the weight of her music, her albums have only gotten better with time. She hasn’t released a bad album, her live shows are powerful whether they be with a backing band or solo and she grows with each release. It’s for all of these reasons and more that she’s one of our favorite artists of the decade.
Her first two releases, the 2011 full length Strange Cacti and the following E.P. Half Way Home from 2012 start to show the promise in the songwriter. Where Strange Cacti is a singer songwriter release emblazoned with folk and twee touches, it’s still a remarkable debut. The song “If it’s Alive, it Will” shows the promise to come. And while Half Way Home starts to peer and foreshadow a more direct sound from Olsen, it wasn’t until the 2014 album Burn Your Fire For No Witness where her strengths as a songwriter came into full frame. From her howling vocals on “Unfucktheworld” to her delicate melodies on “Windows,” the entire album is rife with beauty. The way she balances indie rock and folk structuring with her powerful voice offers a sound that could light a million fires. The indie rock gazing of “Forgiven/Forgotten.” the meandering warble of “Hi-Five” and the tender and delicate build on “lota” showed that Olsen was a new voice in music.
So when Olsen returned in 2016 with the magnificently crafted notes of MY WOMAN, the world realized that she was more than just another indie rock artist. Blending the varying textures of her voice with an intertwined mixture of indie rock and synth pop ballads, the album was one of the best albums of the year. The unassuming demeanor of “Intern,” the garage pop graft of “Never Be Mine” and the catchy indie rock structure of “Shut Up Kiss Me” were all just in the opening tracks. The power of the album though comes in songs like the uplifting sounds of “Not Gonna Kill You” and from the deeply inward sound of “Woman.” The album felt like a new chapter for Olsen, while remnants of her earlier works remained.
Which brings us to her latest masterpiece, All Mirrors. The album, another turn in sound shows how far Olsen can take her music without losing fans in the process. The use of an orchestra among synthesizers only lifts up her vocals to hit with an intensity that’s unmatched in music today. The opening track “Lark” alone should draw you in and never let go of you. The bridge, where it feels like she’s singing directly to you before the strings add a dramatic turn is on a whole other level. But the album’s prose and strengths don’t end there. “Too Easy” has an eighties pop feel that isn’t antiquated, “New Love Cassette” has this dark electronica haze that’s only brightened by the vocals and “Tonight” shows yet another side of how Olsen can tug at your heart with her voice. But of the album, our favorite lies with “Spring,” hands down. There’s a tone there that mixes these Beatles-esque structures and yacht rock melodies that no one else is doing, or at least this masterfully. The album, the latest chapter in a career that has many more highs, is just another example of why we’re such fans.
All Mirrors, MY WOMAN and Burn Your Fire For No Witness as well as Phases are all available from Jagjaguwar in physical editions. The entire Angel Olsen catalogue can be purchased in all digital outlets or streamed on all platforms. Angel Olsen is on tour beginning January 22 in Lisbon, Portugal at Capitolio until July 22 in Brooklyn, NY at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn Festival. Her complete tour schedule can be accessed here.
Image Credits: Photo by Cameron McCool.