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ANGEL OLSEN All Mirrors gets 8/10


Angel Olsen

All Mirrors
Jagjaguwar/Inertia

8/10

Angel Olsen is a woman who owns her shit and faces her problems head on. A core theme running through her albums is that of self-sufficiency and a quest for understanding; on 2014’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness she sang “It’s not just me for you/ I have to look out too… I am the only one now/ You may not be around” while on My Woman (2016) she challenged her intended, “I dare you to understand what makes me a woman”.

Nothing has changed on the fourth studio album, All Mirrors. She’s in charge of her destiny now more than ever, and throughout the record she embraces the freedom of being single right up to the point she’s ready to fall in love all over again. As the celebration of singledom that is Tonight declares: “I like the air that I breathe/ I like the thoughts that I think/ I like the life that I lead/ Without you”.

Olsen previously experimented with synths on Intern, the first single from her last album, but here she really runs with it. All Mirrors is so bold and widescreen in scale that it’s impossible not to be impressed by the production and arrangements of John Congleton (St Vincent) and Ben Babbitt (How To Dress Well), respectively. The frequently orchestral embellishments further add to the spectacle; early on that combination equates to a sound that’s wholly out of this world – a sonic shift towards the future that’s not unlike a string laden Tame Impala on What It Is, while later she finds herself in the more classical territory of a 60s siren (quite literally finds herself too – the lyrics are so contented here there’s little doubting she’s truly found herself).

The only problem with this level of production is that the vocal effects are so big it’s hard to understand what Olsen is singing, particularly on quieter numbers Tonight and Endgame where her deeper delivery is so important to the song. This makes the album infinitely better with a lyric sheet – for a completely different listening experience, read along on Genius and you’ll not only register gems like “You just wanted to forget/ That your heart was full of shit,” but also get a nice insight into her wonderfully random song structures.

As a result, the bigger-sounding numbers work best. Fortunately these are spread throughout the record, including singles Lark and the title track, as well as aching centrepiece Impasse and closer Chance. In line with her past two records, the first half contains the hits and upbeat numbers, while All Mirrors‘ second half is an improbably elegant diversion for an artist often pigeonholed as alt-country. Here Olsen finds comfort in the sort of jazzy orchestral arrangements and soulful vocals that are usually attributed to Nina Simone, and not for the first time she nods towards Lana Del Rey (who herself has covered Simone), particularly on Endgame and Chance.

My Woman was such a strong collection of songs that it’s easy to imagine 70 percent of that album appearing on a greatest hits collection one day. Working with producer Justin Raisen (Charli XCX, Sky Ferreira) it was as close to a classic ‘pop’ album as one imagines Olsen will ever make, balancing pastoral Stevie Nicks tendencies (Sister) with straight-up, career making hits (Shut Up Kiss Me).

All Mirrors is very different, and a reminder of what a unique artist Olsen is. Focussing on a vibe and a sound, sometimes the production overtakes the songs themselves. It makes for a cohesive listen, albeit one that might have you wondering if a couple of numbers would benefit from less effects, particularly on the vocals. It’s a small question mark, however, on what is an astonishing and unexpected album from a songwriter who clearly takes no prisoners. Olsen finishes the album announcing: “I’m leaving once again/ Making my own plans”. You better believe she is.

HARVEY RAE

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