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Alternative & Indie - Released September 2, 2016 | Jagjaguwar
Alternative & Indie - Released November 10, 2017 | Jagjaguwar
Alternative & Indie - Released July 31, 2019 | Jagjaguwar
Pop/Rock - Released September 4, 2012 | Bathetic Records
With Half Way Home, her first proper solo album following some lesser EP and cassette material, Chicago songwriter Angel Olsen constructs a landscape so starkly beautiful it's surprising she can hide any of the emotional intricacies of her songs in a sound so wide open. Olsen spent some time collaborating with Bonnie "Prince" Billy on tour and singing on his records as part of the Cairo Gang, and while relating her sad-souled Americana songs to those of Bonnie Billy's wouldn't be wrong, that lazy comparison doesn't really do justice to their complexity. Half Way Home is a collection of hidden moments and gracefully wounded sounds taking notes from decades of masterfully melancholic artists. The nostalgic bounce of "The Waiting" filters an upbeat indie folk arrangement through a heavy Roy Orbison lens, spotlighting the deep loneliness locked in what comes off as a sprightly mellow rocker. Angel flits between these shades of classic '50s icons like Orbison and Patsy Cline, echoes of Joni Mitchell's '70s free-spirit wandering, and the more modernized approach shared by her indie contemporaries. On tracks like "Can't Wait Until Tomorrow" and "Always Half Strange," she manages to run through all of these styles, building from a disaffected deadpan to a soaring, yodeling crescendo. Olsen keeps the arrangements minimal for much of the album, but the more fleshed-out numbers like "Lonely Universe" and "The Sky Opened Up" have touches of '70s Euro-folk, with understated percussion, haunted vocal delays, and mumbling bass bringing out touches of Fairport Convention or even the muted sorrow of Sibylle Baier. It's the understatement that makes Half Way Home such a heart-wrenching and gorgeous listen. By album closer "Tiniest Seed," Olsen has laid out a transfixing set of tunes that fold back into a softy crushing whole. Bare-bones harmonies, restrained instrumentation, and Olsen's brilliantly isolated musical persona result in an album to return to repeatedly, with new layers revealing themselves each time. ~ Fred Thomas
Folk/Americana - Released September 20, 2016 | Bathetic Records
With her original-material debut Strange Cacti, Angel Olsen presents a haunting six-track collection of indie folk tunes about heartbreak and life lessons. Featuring only voice and guitar, it was recorded with an almost inexplicably high level of reverb, especially given her compelling vocal delivery, which plays with breathing, vibrato, and versions of yodeling. The result has a far-away, ghostly quality to the point of sounding like an old record playing downstairs and carrying up through pipes. Also contributing to a certain nostalgic effect is the influence of early pop/rock present in Olsen's songwriting, with chords and dynamic melodies that particularly evoke early-'60s American girl groups like the Shirelles. With a vocal tone that is at once girlish and rich (think Zooey Deschanel), she sounds experienced but vulnerable -- at times exasperated -- delivering lyrics about newly acquired cynicism ("My friend, if it's alive it will do anything"). The same vocal qualities that make Olsen so interesting may alienate some, in the way that Morrissey and Joanna Newsom can. However, her ability to write expressive melodies and to deliver raw lyrics with clumsy sincerity and unusual technique gives Olsen the potential to be downright fascinating to others. [Strange Cacti was released in digital and LP formats.] ~ Marcy Donelson
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