Angel Olsen - Whole New Mess Music Album Reviews

Angel Olsen - Whole New Mess Music Album Reviews
Recorded in Anacortes, Washington, the stark original version of the songwriter’s 2019 album All Mirrors makes the experience of solitude sound metaphysical. The songs are spare, but still feel electric.

Before opening her songs to other people, Angel Olsen collaborated with loneliness. Whole New Mess was her blistering original vision for 2019’s epic All Mirrors: a stark acoustic album that she recorded the previous fall at Phil Elverum’s church studio in Anacortes, Washington, while its breakup songs were still wounds. It was months later that the second version—All Mirrors—began to emerge, recreating the emotional catastrophe with dazzling strings and synthesizers, a baroque pop maelstrom. And yet, despite the ornate arrangements of All Mirrors, swarming and towering into the red, Olsen’s colossal voice always played the starring role. The sweep of the MGM strings matched it.
With Olsen’s many-hued warble at the center—at times sounding like a Joan of Arc for crackling emotional resilience—the raw Whole New Mess recordings embody their theme of inner strength. It’s tempting to say that Whole New Mess calls back to Olsen’s other more minimal works, like her exquisitely distant first EP, 2010’s Strange Cacti (“Your thoughts exist in someone else’s head,” she assured us); or the fevered eloquence of 2012’s Half Way Home; or the cassette where she once covered Dolly Parton and Skeeter Davis. But Whole New Mess has a singular power. The songs are spare but still feel electric, and despite their lower volume compared to All Mirrors, you couldn’t necessarily call them quiet. Their slow-strummed chords and finger-picked patterns are at times deliberately brittle and blown-out. Whole New Mess amplifies a different source of loudness.

These unvarnished songs sound in harmony with the elements of their atmosphere: the vapor in the air, the dew at twilight. If the sun’s radiance can enter the frame of a piece of music then “Waving, Smiling” is proof. If the night itself could be a component of a song then you might sense it on “Tonight (Without You).” Whole New Mess makes the experience of solitude sound metaphysical: Olsen sings of stretching her bones out on the floor, waving her hand at no one, watching the thoughts inside her head come clear, like an introvert’s prayer. “I like the life I lead without you,” she sings on “Tonight,” as it glows. This is the lonesome sound, where in lieu of studio-made fireworks you simply hear everything, as orchestrated by one person. “It’s every season, where it is I’m going,” Olsen croons on the title track, a new song and among her best ever, about weathering the storm of really changing, of recalibrating the heart by way of the body and mind. She sings with the depth and candor of Patsy Cline, but her guitar chords are choppy, unpolished, underscoring the point: Life requires messes.

Whole New Mess cycles through these processes and shows their seams. “Too Easy (Bigger Than Us)” is the sound of love beginning, of obsession incarnate, and while the All Mirrors cut exists in a soft hallucinatory haze, this one is desperate and haunting. “Some things happen for a reason/Cancel all these plans/I’m dreaming,” Olsen sings in a high-pitched teardrop that wells like Hank Williams. “(New Love) Cassette” previously evoked smitten AM pop reborn in Broadcast, but here it sounds like no one but Olsen and the scratchy surfaces of her guitar strings, suspended in time. The song is like cellophane, voicing a desire to be someone’s “strength” and “breath.” These illusions soon unfurl. The brooding, wearied ballad “(Summer Song)” tells a tale of enduring hell to find “the weight of all the world came rushing through.”

On All Mirrors, the title track and “Lark” scaled staggering heights. What’s clear on Whole New Mess is that those songs—retitled as “(We Are All Mirrors)” and “Lark Song”—are also the most searching and inquisitive, moving by their own inexhaustible logic. Olsen said she wrote “Lark” about the verbal abuse she has endured in relationships; when she sings, “The way you scream like something else is a matter,” the scream is literal. On both albums, “Lark” is fittingly monumental in response. Olsen sings of “hiding out inside my head” with tidal force, staking out a fortress above the turbulence, a place to protect her dreams. Within them, “(We Are All Mirrors)” borrows one of Surrealism’s most potent images, the mirror, as a reminder that every surface is a possible site of recognition or distortion. Its thick layers of reverb, clangor, and busted organ drones reflect as much. Even the parentheses-filled track titles evoke a mutability.

The transformation that these piercing songs undergo between All Mirrors and Whole New Mess echoes a fact of Olsen’s work that grows truer with each release: she has become a voice of possibility, one ever in flux. The candlelit torch song “Chance (Forever Love),” the penultimate track of Whole New Mess, is a scene of falling action with no clear conclusion, recalling the wonder of Judy Garland if revisited through the supreme melancholy of Sandy Denny. Olsen aches in her conviction, “leaving once again, making my own plan,” “not looking for the answer, or anything that lasts,” wandering with her disillusionment and her glint of hope. “All that space in between where we stand/Could be our chance,” Olsen sings. “It’s hard to say forever love.” If the ending is messy, complicated and unresolved, that’s just right.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Angel Olsen - Whole New Mess Music Album Reviews Angel Olsen - Whole New Mess Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, September 08, 2020 Rating:

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