Angel Olsen is a tricky one. She seems to rather awkwardly straddle certain elements I think are absolutely spellbindingly beautiful, and others which I downright dislike. She has a new album out on Bathetic Records called Half Way Home, and it is in parts absolutely stunning and just every once in a while really quite grating.
She has an idiosyncratic, old-timey voice. In fact, she has an absolutely incredible voice, truth be told. However, in her vocal delivery there are a lot of very obvious old-timey inflections which, when kept strictly under control, give it character and pathos. When overdone, however (and the line is incredibly, incredibly fine) it is a aggravating affectation which makes me swing from being utterly entranced with her music to being genuinely irritated with it.
Listen to the gorgeous Tiniest Seed from her new album below, and you’ll see half of what I mean; absolutely beguilingly beautiful:
At times, however, as she occasionally threatens to do in the video at the top of the page, she pushes the idiosyncrasies a little too far and it starts to grate really quite badly. I am no producer of course, nor a musician, so I haven’t actually earned the right to this opinion, but I would personally suggest that when your voice is so clearly beautiful as Olsen’s, you really don’t need to do anything very extravagant to demonstrate that fact.
If it were me, I would suggest reigning it in a little bit, and having the confidence that the sheer loveliness of her natural timbre and the style of her songwriting will do the trick whatever, and just leaving it at that. Less is more, I suppose, but that’s just the opinion of an ex-engineer so who really cares, eh? Fortunately this seems to be the direction she herself is taking as she progresses, so I’ll shush now and wait and see.
The knife’s edge on which my relationship with her music seems to sit might lead me love or completely turn away from Half Way Home after a couple of years, and I really couldn’t tell you which was more likely. One thing that is for certain is that I find an awful lot of what she does to be completely bewitching.
Her voice has a magnetic combination of sadness and defiance, and is at times tremulous and at others bold. This enigmatic delivery has well-established appeal of course, but she does it so gorgeously well. I love the minimal arrangements as well. There is enough added to the picked guitar to add texture – at times a most deliciously uneasy texture, in fact – but for the most part the lilting rhythms of her playing and the wandering cadences of her voice are left very much at the forefront where they belong.
I don’t really know where I’m going with this, in fact I don’t really know where I am going with Olsen’s music altogether, just from a fan’s perspective, but there is certainly some pretty special stuff happening here and I strongly encourage you to check it out.