Angel Olsen Brings It All To The Table On The Overwhelming, Undercooked ‘All Mirrors’
Man, I really dug My Woman, Angel Olsen’s album from 2016. It finished in my top 10 albums of the year. I’ve listened to a handful of songs over and over. “Shut Up, Kiss Me” is one of those, of course, but also “Never Be Mine,” “Intern,” and “Give It Up” among them. However, it occurred to me, as I prepped to listen to Olsen’s new album All Mirrors, that my love for a handful of songs on My Woman may have clouded my memory of the songs I like a little less. Or the songs I like, such as “Sister,” which are good, but also almost eight-god-damn-minutes long. Or how there were maybe three songs on her previous album Burn Your Fire for No Witness, that I liked. I consider myself an Angel Olsen fan, but perhaps I had come to feel like I was a bigger fan than I am in actuality. Then again, her cover of “Tougher Than The Rest” is so good.
As somebody who listens to a lot of lo-fi indie rock Olsen’s style is a little incongruous to what I dig anyway. Her music doesn’t have that pace. Songs aren’t over in two minutes. They linger as she luxuriates in her sound. There has always been a tinge of indulgence in Olsen’s albums. There are always a few songs over five minutes. And maybe one or two over six, or seven, that could definitely be two minutes shorter. All Mirrors is probably her most-indulgent album yet. There are no rockers. There is no tempo. Olsen is drowning us in her sound.
That’s not always a bad thing, though! Her voice is amazing. It’s basically impossible for an Olsen song to be bad because of the sound of her voice. Too long? Perhaps. A little boring? On occasion. But never bad. When I first started digging into All Mirrors, I felt like all Olsen was interested in doing, it seemed, was wash over us in a wave of sound. And that was fine with me. I couldn’t make out a single lyric. I realized I was going to need to give the album a listen on headphones to really dig into it. That being said, on that first listen the sounds were pretty, and her voice cracked in that way her voice does, it trembles but remains powerful, and I was digging it.
The first song where the lyrics are clear and clean is “Spring,” which is the fifth song of the album. All Mirrors started to fall into more of a traditional Olsen groove. Then, you get to the last two songs, which are just straight-up torch songs. It’s some Judy Garland shit. That’s not my thing, and certainly not what I expected. It’s big and bombastic, but also slow and meandering. Her voice booms over tinkling piano. Again, I can’t dislike it. It’s Angel Olsen. Those songs, “Endgame” and album closer “Chance,” are built around her voice. They also aren’t something to real grab on to.
Olsen is a strong lyricist, so when you can actually parse her lyrics, even when you need headphones, she delivers. This may be an album made for headphone listening. It’s lush, yes, but there’s more to that. This album is a piece, basically. It’s a whole. I can’t imagine myself putting any of these songs into a playlist. They would feel jarring in most of my playlists. They aren’t “Shut Up, Kiss Me.” Also, you aren’t throwing All Mirrors on at a party, unless you want to make people just sit quietly until they solemnly get up and leave. No, it’s for listening to by yourself, when you are in a specific mood, in an isolated experience.
I like All Mirrors. It will make my top 25 albums, I bet. Maybe even my top 20. However, this is a step down from My Woman. Olsen went maximalist in certain ways, but it makes for a bit of an odd listen. Her beautiful voice carries a lot of wait, but the song composition and music style just doesn’t hit me right, and the lyrics don’t hit me as strongly, when they hit me at all. I could imagine falling asleep to All Mirrors, in a good way. I can’t imagine wanting to revisit this album much otherwise.