Our Daily Bread 524: Angel Olsen ‘Big Time’

June 20, 2022

ALBUM REVIEW
Mikey McDonald

Newest recruit to the Monolith Cocktail Mikey McDonald is a resident of Glasgow, who can be found running the streets of the city as long distance running enthusiast. A former full time poker player, Mikey has recently taken up a role as a physio assistant. He’s previously been posting chat, games outcomes, strategy on the poker related rantings 6max SNG blog, and his musical tastes, recommendations can be found on Last FM. For his second review, Mikey takes a look at the latest album from the much feted Angel Olsen.

Angel Olsen  ‘Big Time’

Angel Olsen returns with the new highly anticipated Big Time and this marks the sixth full-length release from this American artist who hails from Missouri. Olsen’s recent albums My Woman (2016) and All Mirrors (2019) were both my #1 albums of the year so coming into Big Time expectations were sky high. A quick peak over on Metacritic and the album is currently sitting on an impressive score of 88 indicating universal acclaim.

Big Time ventures more country than any of Olsen’s previous efforts. Olsen records and plays with a band but still very much feels like a solo artist in her own right. Her music falls under various genres including art pop, chamber pop or baroque pop – no doubt down to her frequent inclusion of classical instruments like strings, horns and pianos. Big Time is no different and we’re treated to these instruments in spades.

Ballad ‘Ghost On’ trickles along gently and could be haunting a 1920s ballroom as we speak. This track showcases Olsen’s vocal ability, which takes centre stage and is nothing other than serene. Compared to its predecessor Big Time affords more breathing space – there’s plenty of effects and little nuances but it never feels cluttered or over the top.

On ‘Right Now’ Olsen defiantly promises “I ain’t the past coming back to haunt you!”, which is soaked in reverb, perhaps only to emphasise this message. Thumping drums, monster guitar leads and belting vocal passages forge together to create a sonic eruption and burst the track into life – so much so, you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a whole new song. If anything, this is just testament to the strong musicianship and stellar production on show.

The jaw-dropping ‘Go Home’ all grandiose sounds like it’s been recorded live in a cathedral and features operatic backing. On this track horns dance and instruments swell to a euphoric climax. Olsen chants “I don’t belong here, nobody knows me”, and we all know she means figuratively. Olsen’s voice is a weapon, really, play this track loud through some high-end speakers and listen to her voice ripple through the room.

Penultimate track ‘Through The Fires’ opens with some plaintive pianos and perhaps if played loud enough would extinguish all fires in this world through the resulting tears alone. Olsen’s vocal performance is very much low key as she encourages us to “walk through the fires”, which could be a stark reminder to take risks or confront those challenges and demons in front of you. Olsen repeats “lighter, higher” for the best part of a minute before winding the track down with some sombre strings and this is one of the more ethereal moments on the record.

Closer ‘Chasing The Sun’ is dreamy and probably the closest thing to a lullaby Olsen’s ever produced. If Olsen was lighting the room up on ‘Go Home’ she’s whispering us to sleep here. There’s something very olden days and nostalgic about this track, like it’s been floating around the universe since the beginning of time and is only now seeing the light of day. A string section starts playing which is both uplifting and a thing of beauty and transforms us back in time, whilst around half way Olsen starts singing in her upper register which sends shivers down the spine. It’s stunning and one of the finest pieces in her catalogue and a real fitting way to end the album.

In a recent interview, Olsen states “I enunciated differently, and got into holding the words out” before adding that she would “sing more delicately around certain words” and this is evident on tracks like ‘Go Home’ where she alters her expression singing, “I don’t belong here”, or especially on ‘Chasing The Sun’ where the words “drop everything I’m doing” could quite easily be mistaken for something else entirely, as Olsen goes all operatic.

Is this Olsen’s magnum opus? Well…I’ll leave that for the listener to decide. So long as she continues to dazzle us that’s all that really matters. Look, Olsen’s always been a star – a star who burns bright in our blue ocean sky, a supernova in our milky way galaxy. And she’s proved it once again with this truly exceptional release. She’s proved it big time.

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