4 out of 5 stars
More than a decade into singer/songwriter Angel Olsen’s career, fans have come to expect intensely personal introspection and reflection in her work. After all, she initially recorded for the Bathetic Records label.
Following Whole New Messin 2020, basically a solo reworking of most of the songs from the lush and well-received All Mirrorsin 2019, she returns with a fuller yet intimate collection heavily focused on loss (both of her parents died just before recording started) and new beginnings experienced after coming out as queer.
It’s a tricky balance that Olsen pulls off with her usual adept professionalism. A noticeable swing into subtle country on some selections is heightened by Spencer Cullum’s pedal steel work. But it’s Jonathan Wilson’s production that frames these slices of internal meditation, particularly on tracks like “Right Now.” It opens as Olsen’s lone voice with its hint of Patsy Cline sophistication accompanies her stark acoustic strumming, gradually adding instruments until an intense climax of dissonant guitars, horns, and strings collide as she sings If we’re apart or here together I need to be myself.
The pain in her voice is evident on sadder selections such as “This Is How It Works” with lyrics I’m barely hanging on and the soft, melodramatic ballad “Through the Fires” where her voice is hushed and fragile.
Front-loaded with slightly more upbeat tunes, the tone gradually shifts into sparer, sparser, shadier sounds. The title track glorifies a new romance with I’m loving you big time I’m loving you morein the disc’s most country-leaning and optimistic moment. Bare piano and string quartet dominate the closing “Chasing the Sun” where Olsen moans happy lyrics about driving away the blues contrasted with one of the set’s bleakest melodies.
It’s an album best explored with headphones, perhaps alone and in the dark, to appreciate Wilson’s intricate instrumentation and Olsen’s intoxicating, fluid, musical dynamics. Reading the lyrics also helps absorb and intensify these bittersweet songs of hurt, desire, and occasionally, the promise of sunnier times ahead.