ANGEL OLSEN Phases gets 8/10

Angel Olsen
Phases
Jagjaguwar/Inertia

8/10

Angel Olsen’s last album of 2016 My Woman was her biggest, boldest and best release to date, raising her profile profile more than ever before. Since then she’s become in demand the world over. To sate our appetite till the next LP, we have Phases – a collection of B-sides, obscure covers and demos – songs written and recorded from across her career, going back to 2011 when she released her first EP, Strange Cacti.

There are some great songs on here that for the most part eschew the big band sound of My Woman and feature the stripped back, acoustic, folk production that characterised her earlier work – all the while keeping the focus on that incredible voice of hers. Songs that lend themselves well to solo performance, which is additionally exciting considering her impending solo tour – her first in many years.

As anyone who has followed her since the early days would know, her evolution from a quirky, warbling Joni Mitchell style folkist, to the commanding queen of alt-rock has been breathtaking. And because of this, there is a scope, breadth and diversity of material on here; bound by Olsen’s unique style and a sense of intimacy.

The album kicks off with one of the best tracks, the beautiful Fly On The Wall, a track that is classic Olsen highlighting her soaring voice – a My Woman outake that was released on the Our First 100 Days compilation.

Special is another track Olsen felt didn’t fit on the album, but here it’s a slow burning, brooding, building gem. One of the few more electric band based tracks, it really takes off towards the end with a dirgey indie guitar, cut through with a lead riff – quite unlike anything she’s released before – as she sings “want to be special” through gritted teeth. It was released as the first ‘single’ complete with a cool ‘home video’ style clip adding to her charm.

The 60s psych rock of Sweet Dreams suits her well with her vocals hitting a wicked note Chris Isaak would be proud of. Then there’s her wonderful lo fi rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s Tougher Than The Rest, which she makes her own, turning it into a real fragile, intimate track. Roky Erickson’s For You is another great cover she performs with sheer beauty and intimacy, with old fashioned crooner production that’s reminiscent of Roy Orbison.

Bringing it home is Endless Road, a cover of a song sung by 60s folk singer Hoyt Axton when he appeared on an episode of Bonanza. Another heartbreaker, concluding the album aptly with “every road I see will bring me home”.

While it understandably lacks cohesion and there’s a few more forgettable inclusions, overall it’s a compilation most worthy of release that stands up alongside her catalogue and rewards with repeat listens. It’s a wonderful mix of material chronicling the evolution and rise of Olsen as one of her generation’s great singer-songwriters, with her effortlessly timeless vintage tone.

ALFRED GORMAN

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