An indie singer/songwriter who delivers her vulnerable songs with a distinctive warble informed by vintage country, Angel Olsen's early, spare, acoustic songs grew increasingly lush and dramatic across her first several albums. The one-time Bonnie "Prince" Billy backup singer debuted with the reverb-heavy, solo indie folk of 2010's Strange Cacti, expanding to an alt-country power trio for her third album, 2014's Burn Your Fire for No Witness, her Billboard 200 debut. Two years later, My Woman reached a career-high number 47 on the chart. While maintaining an intimate character and a haunting sound reinforced by stylized echo, Olsen recorded her fifth long-player, 2019's All Mirrors, with a 14-piece orchestra. The follow-up, 2020's Whole New Mess, offered an overhauled solo version of All Mirrors that included a pair of original songs.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Olsen began performing in the city's coffee shops during her teenage years, soon branching out and tapping into a network of like-minded artists. She moved to Chicago in 2006, eventually working with California musician Emmett Kelly as part of his collective the Cairo Gang. Singing harmonies on Bonnie "Prince" Billy's 2010 album The Wonder Show of the World as well as its 2011 follow-up, Wolfroy Goes to Town, Olsen also released her own set of original acoustic-guitar songs, Strange Cacti, in 2010. The cassette was later reissued as a 12", both on Bathetic Records. Half Way Home, a spare album with understated arrangements and a homespun approach somewhere between '50s country crooners and her indie contemporaries, followed on the same label in 2012.
In early 2013, Olsen added drummer Josh Jaeger and bassist Stewart Bronaugh to flesh out her stripped-back sound, which added a brooding, garage rock appeal to her intimate music. Soon after forming the trio, Olsen returned to the studio with producer John Congleton to track sessions for her third album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, which was released in early 2014 on Jagjaguwar. The record was critically well-received and spent a week at number 71 on the Billboard 200.
By then resettled in Asheville, North Carolina, Olsen expanded her sound still further on 2016's My Woman, touring as a six-piece to support its release. My Woman fared even better on the U.S. album chart, reaching number 47. Jagjaguwar followed it in 2017 with Phases, a compilation of Olsen rarities such as early demos and unreleased material from the My Woman sessions. In June 2019, Olsen contributed a featured spot on a track for Mark Ronson's collaborative Late Night Feelings, whose other guests included the likes of Alicia Keys, Miley Cyrus, and Lykke Li. Featuring production by Congleton and chamber orchestra arrangements by Jherek Bischoff and Ben Babbitt, her expansive fifth studio album, All Mirrors, arrived on Jagjaguwar in October 2019. That record also landed on the Billboard 200, peaking at number 52.
She returned the following year with the stripped-down Whole New Mess, her first true solo album since 2012's Half Way Home. Captured in Anacortes, Washington, at the Unknown, a church that was converted into a recording studio by producer Nicholas Wilbur and Mount Eerie's Phil Elverum, it saw Olsen rework nine songs from the heavyhearted All Mirrors (alongside two originals) using only her voice and guitar accompaniment. The box set Song of the Lark and Other Far Memories followed in 2021. It packaged All Mirrors and Whole New Mess with a set of related bonus material titled Far Memory and a 40-page souvenir photo book.
© Fred Thomas & Marcy Donelson /TiVo