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Mark Evans

CD of The Week

Week of 10/07/19

    Angel Olsen - All Mirrors (Jagjaguwar)

    One thing I don't see come up in many conversations about Angel Olsen is her nomadic nature as a musician. Every album she has released to date has been a keeper, yet none sound particularly alike. From lo-fi acoustic folk to searing indie rock to big-screen guitar pop balladry, she has proven herself a master of many styles and a slave to none. This has made her an exceptionally easy artist to enjoy but a tricky one to pin down. Who is Angel Olsen? Olsen herself seems to be examining this very question on the revelatory All Mirrors. Epic and intimate in equal measure, it may be the purest, most powerful reflection of Angel Olsen as an artist, and a person, yet.

    The album initially began as an effort to go back to her roots, recording stripped-down songs that would help her get back in touch with herself, her feelings, and away from the growing illusion of identity swirling around her. Then she recorded a more maximalist twin with lush string arrangements from Ben Babbit and Jherek Bischoff. Those strings bring transportive, Technicolor grandeur to Olsen's musings on authenticity and vulnerability, while her vocals continue to render them visceral. It's like some Gainsbourg-scored, old Hollywood epic is spilling out her psyche where she's the hard-fighting heroine.

    The one-two opening punch of "Lark" and the title track is as potent a thesis, and catharsis, as any album has offered in recent memory. The former simmers to life with glimmering guitar and lyrics of loss and resignation before those strings bring everything to a boil. Then the boil erupts with booming drums and Olsen's register raises from wistful to wailing, culminating in a castigating refrain of "Dream on dream DREAM ON," telling a former lover (and maybe herself) that she's done clinging to the past and ignoring herself and her dreams for the future. The latter continues the theme of starting clean, letting go of the past to avoid repeating it, as a 12-piece orchestra dances with a patient pulse and synth flourishes worthy of Chromatics. "All mirrors are erasing", she repeats as if she's scrubbing any possible artifice away in real time.

    It would be hard for anyone to maintain the high achieved above, but Olsen sustains that drama and scope across the subsequent nine tracks, always finding a subtle new sonic trick to make her own as her strings and voice thread it all together. "What It Is" employs a playful percussive stomp not too far removed from Animal Collective, while "Summer" blends Sergio Leone guitars and "Heart of Glass" disco loops. Perhaps best of all is the devastating closer "Chance", where Angel does her best Judy Garland over a torchy waltz, laying her desire bare: "I'm not looking for the answer or anything that lasts / I just want to see some beauty." She may not have found it yet, but the search and journey that she chronicles on All Mirrors are as beautiful and lasting as anything she has ever done, or anyone else in the past several years. It's less another transformation than an actualization. This is who Angel Olsen is.

    Angel Olsen returns to Philadelphia at the Franklin Music Hall on Halloween night.

    Review by Rob Huff

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