Anyone reckless enough to have typecast Angel Olsen according to 2013’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness is in for a sizeable surprise with her third album, MY WOMAN. Her sad-girl persona, thrust upon her unwittingly by music media, transforms into its most dramatic form. It’s a brazen sadness echoed through crashing symbols and spacious synths. The songs are devastating, but also nourishing: it’s a whole new version of Olsen.
On the set of Olsen’s All Mirrors” video shoot in Brooklyn, Ashley Connor — the collaborator from that barn shoot seven years earlier — stood in the cool, darkened studio, setting up a key shot, in which Olsen would rise up into a room full of mirrors and smoke, passing one reflection after another, her image refracted and multiplied dramatically. The entire shoot had been scheduled for a single day, and the crew was moving from task to task with unflagging intensity, approaching the midpoint of a 15-hour shift. In the adjacent studio, techs were breaking down an ethereal white staircase that Olsen descended earlier in a glittering, sage green Gucci gown, shaggy with tassels. At one point, the staircase had been canceled for budget reasons, but some local carpenters, who happened to be Angel Olsen fans, volunteered to build it at cost.
She eases us in with opener ‘Lark’. It acts as a transition from the Angel Olsen that was to the Angel Olsen that is. Just her voice and a guitar, it could easily have been pulled from the latter half of ‘My Woman’. But in the background, an orchestra tunes up. They find their moment. Then strike. Everything explodes.
For a minute and a half, Angel Olsen’s new album is a quiet murmur, a low boil. It doesn’t last. For about 95 seconds, Lark ,” the first song on the new All Mirrors, is going great. Olsen’s guitar is a sparkling tremolo. Letting her voice flicker and fade, Olsen sings about the hole left behind when someone leaves your life: If only we could start again, pretending we don’t know each other.” Behind her, we hear a rising drone of synths and strings. And then, suddenly, everything explodes. Lark” becomes something else.
That’s true for All Mirrors as much as it is ‘True Blue’. It began in isolation, recorded and written largely alone, with Olsen hiding out in friend Phil Elverum’s (aka Mount Eerie) favourite studio in the small seaside town of Anacortes, Washington. It soon became something very different.
It’s easy to hear why: Produced by John Congleton, All Mirrors is a big leap for Olsen beyond rough-hewn indie rock and haunting folk, a stark and attention-grabbing collection where dramatic string accents shroud monochrome post-punk synths and sparse rhythms. Accordingly, her vocals are also sleeker—velvety and throaty like a cabaret performer on some songs, art-pop glassy in other places—and exhibit a range of emotions: skeptical after some deep introspection, or weighed down by sadness. In Olsen’s catalog, the album already feels like an analog to Kate Bush’s The Dreaming, which is a challenging record known for its bold boundary-stretching.
Partnered with the fluid instrumental styles, though, this introspection retains a sense of timelessness, of endurance. ‘New Love Cassette’, ‘Too Easy’, ‘All Mirrors’, ‘Spring’, ‘Chance’, and ‘Summer’ are awash with the Americana of Olsen’s home.
The record’s narrative centres on the journey of finding yourself again after emerging from toxic relationships – embracing both the drama of those situations and, most importantly, change. Olsen’s music fits harmoniously with that subject – her sound, too, embraces real change.
All Mirrors is released on Jagjaguwar on October 4th. Opening and closing with two six-minute theatrical epics, Angel Olsen’s fourth album ‘All Mirrors’ is cocooned in pensivity and self-reflection.
Four albums in, and it sounds like Angel Olsen is starting to understand herself a little better. This whole album, she agrees, has been a huge learning curve.
It’s one of the oldest tricks in the playbook: When a musician is looking to telegraph a more mature or sophisticated sound, they send in the strings. Too often, though, when pop artists bring orchestral arrangements into the mix, it can feel mawkish and rote, as though they’re simply outsourcing gravitas. On All Mirrors, Olsen sidesteps this pitfall with grace. The record’s string pieces were arranged by Olsen’s longtime friend Ben Babbitt and the composer Jherek Bischoff, but Olsen herself was quite involved in the process too; a recent New York Times Magazine profile of Olsen described her working with arrangers to communicate her vision of string parts that would react to her vocal lines, rather than simply accompanying them.” As they trill, tremble, and whoosh as aerodynamically as birds, these string arrangements—like Olsen’s evocative and ever-unpredictable voice—always seem to be chasing something more complicated than just beauty.
Reverb and its vocal cousin, vibrato, are aural forms of witchcraft, imparting both haunt and gravitas to the songs they touch. Angel Olsen , once of Chicago, now of North Carolina, has long had a grain silo of a voice, pre-loaded with its own digital effects. On her fourth album she ramps up the drama, adding yet more reverb and throwing in lush orchestral arrangements.
In many ways, it feels like her voice has always belonged inside the emotive swings of a string orchestra, the trembles of the cello adding an extra twinge to the heart with every word she sings. And across All Mirror’s 11 tracks, there are moments where the production and Olsen’s message converge into a singular swirl of hope and optimism. At one point, mid-album slow-burner Tonight” collapses into unrelenting waves of instrumentation that feel almost unbearable. It is Olsen’s favorite song.
Jherek Bischoff — a composer who pulls at the edges of orchestral music, who arranges “Lark” here — seems to take a page from Scott Walker Think of the disembodied strings found on Scott 3 or even on the spare Scott 4, where the slow-motion arrangement bursts at the song’s most rapturous moments. There’s a tenderness in the torrent, an empathy wrung out in a sublime cascade of sound.
It’s 3pm in Asheville, North Carolina, and Angel Olsen is sipping on apricot brandy. It’s been a long day already,” she laments, adding that she desperately wanted to end her forthcoming European tour in Ireland , to no avail. Every time I play there, I always tell myself ‘This is gonna be a sober Irish show. I am going to be sober.’ But no matter what, I wake up the next day feeling like I am a walking human example of purgatory.
All Mirrors isn’t an indie rock album. It’s too rich and lush and open. Its scope is too big. It demands to be heard in concert halls with ornate domes and tapestries and shit. None of the possible reference points are quite right, but All Mirrors will send you scrambling for classics to come up with any kind of sonic precedent: Early-’70s Scott Walker, Berlin-era Bowie, scores for mid-period Kubrick movies. It’s a thick, heady, transporting piece of music.
In that moment, Olsen’s voice suddenly, jarringly switches registers. It transforms into a keening wail, almost a scream: Hiding out inside my head, it’s me again, it’s no surprise!” That new voice is like a football team crashing through a paper banner. Everything else follows: A thunderous drum beat, a roar of strings, a storm of guitar fuzz. The volume surges upward. In the song’s video, Olsen locks eyes with the camera as it flies up over her head, taking in the dusky blue foothills around her. It’s a thrilling moment, a bracing widescreen transformation.
Those who know Olsen from the stripped-down intimacy of Burn Your Fire For No Witness ( Unfucktheworld” ) may be startled by the near-Björkian-grandeur on display here — although her 2016 My Woman clearly showed an artist whose trajectory had yet to be fully measured. Here, songs alternate vast orchestral landscapes with similarly-cinematic band tracks, Olsen’s distressed alto moving from shivering whisper to piercing wail and back again.
On the ballad, Spring,” Olsen acknowledges the futility of searching for meaning over gently warped piano: Wow, time has revealed how little we know us,” she sings, sounding content with all that remains unknown. Four tracks later comes Summer,” a cowboy song with a galloping hook that makes me imagine Olsen riding her horse blissfully over sandy plains to greet a new frontier. Elsewhere, the strings seem to inhabit characters of their own, like the swarm-of frenzied-bees-sounding moments on What It Is,” a jaunty number that calls out the problematic actions of a former lover.
You know, I didn’t really think about it in that way. I didn’t even know the record was going to be called All Mirrors. In the end, I thought it would be more interesting to go with the bigger sound because it’ll give more perspective to look back on later if the originals get released.
This record is charged with the precision that characterises much of Olsen’s writing: she skewers the pain of fading love – and the struggle to hang onto it at all costs – with the exacting likeness of a reflection in a mirror.
Singer-songwriter Angel Olsen , recently featured on Mark Ronson’s Late Night Feelings” album, has dropped a video for Lark,” the second song to be released from her powerful fourth full-length album All Mirrors,” which arrives on Oct. 4. The first song and video from the album, its title track , was released in July.
Angel Olsen’s fourth studio album is her most adventurous to date and almost certainly her best. The Missouri-born alt-country singer has turned down the guitars on All Mirrors, with strings and synths utilised dreamily to create a symphonic soundscape that perfectly compliments her otherworldly holler. Where her earlier albums were more earthy, All Mirrors is an aesthetic creation that works in juxtaposition with her emotional lyrics, mostly drawn from experience.
Her distinct voice — flecked with distance, often sounding, even live, as if it is arriving via an old radio transmitter — suits Ronson’s ’70s leaning production well. She passed on a song she didn’t know what to do with after Ronson got in touch, somewhat out of the blue.