Review: Angel Olsen — Phases

Categories:  The Arts    Music
Wednesday, November 15th, 2017 at 3:00 PM
Review: Angel Olsen — Phases by Livia Homerski

Rating: ★★★★☆

Angel Olsen sings of quiet, indifferent heartbreak for most of “Phases,” the compilation album of sorts comprised of “B-Sides, rarities, and covers from various elusive releases throughout the years,” according to Olsen's website. Released on Nov. 10, it is something for anguished old souls to vaguely reminisce about in the modern age.

There are gorgeous country roots grown deep within the songwriting, especially on tracks like “All Right Now” and “May As Well.”  A haunting goodbye, “May As Well” sounds as though it would play in the sepia background of an old Western as a dame says her haunting goodbyes to her lost love at the train station: “I'm always arriving when you say farewell / In all of my dreams we are husband and wife / I'll never forget you all of my life.”

We continue through time as “California," a shrieking ode to The Velvet Underground, contains loose but thoughtful vocals weaving through tambourine and brush-tapped drums. Olsen’s voice is the most dynamic on this track; she growls, yodels, and breathes a little variation into every verse. She has something of an Elvis Presley cadence with a rich range that she is unafraid to utilize.

The seven minute epic, “Special,” is pushed along by a slinking bass riff and a foreboding tale of desire as the other party begins to lose interest. There is a slight jam building towards the end of the song, but demurely comes down instead of breaking into a instrument smashing free-for-all. It is almost expected after those threatening seven minutes of building desperation and distortion, but frankly, it would seem uncharacteristic of Olsen’s weepy quietness.

Some of the best angst in “Phases” exists the ostensibly ironic “How Many Disasters.” With quips like “How many disasters will it take to make you smile? / Haven’t seen you laughing at yourself in quite a while” and a chorus that laments “How unfair to have a heart that’s still beating,” this is a song for those who love misery more than your own company. The acoustic guitar has the bass turned up and reverb off which accentuates the tongue-in-cheekiness.

There were a few times where the simplistic guitar strums that are chugging along become monotonous. This chugging rhythm only breaks for every couple of songs on the record. “Sans” picks up the pace of Olsen’s overly straightforward rhythms and “Endless Road” is the only time we hear finger-picking, something that is integral to the singer-songwriter genre.

“Sans” could have been one of my favorites on “Phases” due to the contemplation of the aches of traveling and becoming disenfranchised with yourself and the ones you love. “In the darker hour when you're far away from home / Never sure exactly of the last time you were known” explores this lonely place that exists in Olsen’s head, but her pinched and nasally head voice is too much to bear over the faint accompanying guitar.

Olsen carves out her own home in the modern singer-songwriter world by emulating a much older time period; many of her songs feel as though they had been jotted down on a daisy-tatted handkerchief. The album remains cohesive while blending somber sensibilities with the occasional lo-fi effect on the vocals and guitar work. Even as she gracefully caterwauls through a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher than the Rest,” Olsen cries like her namesake: an Angel. 

Standout tracks: "May As Well," "How many Disasters" and "Tougher Than The Rest."

Stream "Phases" below: 

Livia Homerski can be reached at musics.spectator@gmail.com.

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