Album Review: Angel Olsen—’All Mirrors’

Posted: by The Editor

Equipped with a guitar and a heavenly voice befitting her first name, Angel Olsen hasn’t stopped growing since her folky debut EP Strange Cacti from 2011. When she first received acclaim for her album Burn Your Fire For No Witness in 2014, her folk sound had evolved and begun to find footing in the realm of indie rock, with songs that mixed the best of both those worlds. Her star rose to great heights with its succeeding album, 2016’s My Woman, which hit #47 on the Billboard 200, and found her rooted deeply in the indie rock sound, crafting yet another fantastic record with further acclaim. Now, she has released All Mirrors, an album feeling far from her previous rock-based works, with a sound more indebted to synthesizers and orchestral arrangements. But has this change adversely affected her work? Upon listening to the album, such an assumption would be an embarrassing mistake.

The album’s opener, “Lark,” begins with Olsen’s vocals and guitar (the latter appears only only sporadically throughout the rest of the record), like much of her older work, but quickly becomes something more than words. The words of love falling apart are joined by the swelling of strings, and percussion played so powerfully as to rage along with Olsen herself. The force of the music seems conjoined to the lyrics she sings, increasing and decreasing in intensity as they do, creating atmospheres lush and frantic until she sings, “You say you love every single part / What about my dreams? / What about the heart?” A wall of distortion floods in, and by the end of the song’s six minutes, you feel as if you’ve traversed a mountain.

“All Mirrors,” the lead single, feels like a sequel to “Intern” off “My Woman,” building well upon the synthesized textures and creating a fully-fledged piece of art, with its heavy use of synths and strings setting the stage for the album itself. It’s the best choice for a lead single, with Olsen whipping the music into an ethereal glimmer of synths and drums as she sings “At least at times it knew me.” Strings flourish and lead into the song’s conclusion as the drums go with full force.

“Too Easy” is a song almost split in two, beginning with synthesizers and Olsen singing in a way that’s as affectionate as the dedication she sings of. “I believe all that you say. . .I’d do anything for you.” Bass and drums appear in a minimal capacity, and then an abrupt shimmer of piano makes the drums pick up with urgency, and the song’s mood changes. “I looked around and found something else / Something that was / Bigger than us.” Something unexpected has dwarfed the love and dedication she thought they had, leading to an uncertain future, one that is left ambiguous as a chiptune-esque melody brings it to a close.

On an album brimming with intensity, “New Love Cassette” may be the most laid-back tune present—at least for most of the song. The drums and synths play in a fashion so blissed-out that they appear hazy, but power is always present in Olsen’s vocals, apparent in her angelic, soothing delivery of “Gonna love you / True you” and “Love free / Take me”. But the record’s ever-present string section makes itself known with sudden stabs playing in between their dream-like soundscapes. And by the song’s end, they seem to completely overtake the piece in one frenzied swell.

“Spring,” buoyed by piano and drums, tells of how love can change a person (“Remember when we said / We’d never have children / I’m holding your baby / Now that we’re older / How time has revealed how / Little we know us”), and a desire to find such love, even if it changes how they are. Despite the hardships she has faced in the pursuit of love, Olsen finds love to be a thing of beauty with searching for, regardless of the pain that search may cause. 

“What It Is,” an upbeat number, displays a musicianship that defines All Mirrors. At a certain section of the song, the strings appear to be treated to sound like synths, with a striking result. Instead of being a mere string-backed synth-pop album, the album strives to completely mix them together as opposed to stacking one on top of the other. Such a song shows how the work of conductors Ben Babbit and Jherek Bischoff do more than add to the song, they intertwine with it, becoming irreplaceable in the arrangement.

“Impasse,” grows its sound to such epic proportions as to move mountains, and sound as of Olsen is singing along to the most theatrical of film scores. On “Tonight,” she sings of a better life after the end of poor relationship. Her vocals are soft, weary, and along with the lullaby-like, signals both a tiresome end, with a brighter dawn on its way in the most beautiful way. “Summer” travels with a beat like a galloping horse, fitting lyrics such as “Took a while but I made it through / If I could show you the hell I’d been to,” creating a sonic atmosphere of cavalry heading into battle. “Endgame,” with a sound so desolate and wistful, is pure film noir, complete with muted trumpet. Olsen sings at her lowest and softest; a desire for “more than love” crooned under the sheets of night.

“Chance,” is as heart-wrenching a closer as you can get. Olsen’s singing is perhaps at her most beautiful, her most emotional, stripping away the layers of her heart, leaving it bare. With a sound like the most teary-eyed of ’60s R&B, it reaches its end with Olsen singing at her absolute softest yet yearning voice, “It’s hard to say forever love / Forever’s just so far / Why don’t you say you’re with me now / With all of your heart?” This plea to think of the now, is enveloped by a gorgeous wave of melodious strings, that bring the record to an amazing end.

It’s astounding how Olsen has the ability to change her sound in any way she desires, and is able to craft a more stunning album every time she does. All Mirrors, a record about love from all angles, is a triumph in every sense of the word and one that establishes Olsen as one of the most astounding singer-songwriters of today. 

Disappointing / Average / Good / GreatPhenomenal

David A. Gutierrez | @dagewts

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