Angel Olsen: Big Time (Jagjaguwar) | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Angel Olsen

Big Time

Jagjaguwar

Jun 10, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Angel Olsen has lived a tumultuous life over the past two years, perhaps more than most. In April 2021, she came out as gay and introduced her partner to her parents and to her fans via Instagram. Shortly after, her mother passed away—two months later, so did her father. Olsen was set to begin recording Big Time three weeks after her mother’s death, and “wasn’t in a very good state to continue writing,” she shared on her Instagram in April of this year. Her partner suggested they write together about how they met, and “Big Time” was born.

Olsen has traversed a wide variety of sonic and emotional worlds across her career, from her insular early solo work to the vintage rock sounds of MY WOMAN and the psychedelic grandiosity of All Mirrors. The massive belt she displayed on All Mirrors was tempered on 2020’s Whole New Mess, which featured hushed, haunting reworks of many of All Mirrors’ songs.

In many ways, Whole New Mess seemed a prescient precursor to the emotional state Olsen would find herself in during the next year; it is hazy and uncertain, awash in tenuous hopefulness and vague sadness. Big Time once again switches gears, though whether out of a desire to experiment or out of emotional necessity is up for debate. Despite the context from which much of it was birthed, the album is conversely clear-eyed and tender: “I lost sight, then I made up my mind/To learn to release the dreams that had died,” she sings on “Through the Fires,” which she calls the “centerpiece statement” of the record.

The new record finds Olsen basking in new love and lost love, using her distinctive tone and quavering vibrato to great effect. Olsen leans country on Big Time, moving between lush slide guitars and piano ballads, singing of grief with a gentleness that exudes as much gratefulness as it does melancholy. Though based in the reality of Olsen’s life, these songs also have a dreamlike quality, teetering between abstraction and the tangible. Because of this, the album’s highlights are some of its most subtle: “All the Flowers” is a gorgeous, ethereal love song with Olsen’s voice floating atop a woozy bed of guitar. The song is evocative in its mood; it is easy to feel sun-drunk and in love while it’s playing.

The exquisite ballad “Chasing the Sun” ends Big Time, and between its Hollywood strings and repetitive mantras, there couldn’t have been a better choice to close the album. “Driving away, driving away/Driving away the blues,” Olsen chants for the final minute of the song. The strings and piano cycle through bittersweet chords, casting a warm glow over everything. In the song’s final moments, the piano fades to leave only the strings—but they never resolve. “Chasing the Sun” instead ends on a question mark, something slightly discordant amongst all the beauty. But it’s difficult to read it as anything but hope; though grief remains and follows behind, the sun is still ahead. She’ll get there eventually. (www.angelolsen.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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