sat 19/10/2019

CD: Angel Olsen - Phases | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Angel Olsen - Phases

CD: Angel Olsen - Phases

Singer-songwriter at her most open in this career-spanning retrospective

Whose woman? Her own woman

An underground American star since 2010’s Strange Cacti EP, Angel Olsen’s distinctive brand of indie folk-rock was propelled to new heights in both Burn Your Fire For No Witness (2014) and then last year with MY WOMAN. After years of touring, interviews, videos and topping end-of-year lists, Phases, the singer-songwriter's new album of rarities, B-sides, and previously unreleased songs, takes us back to a time when delicacy ruled her music. Its vulnerability suggests that long-time fans will be more than happy to follow Olsen musically back in time and out of the spotlight.

“Fly on Your Wall”, originally featured in the Pitchfork anti-Trump fundraiser Our First 100 Days, makes for a thudding start to the album. Olsen’s voice is at its most confident and drawling, while her lyrics are as personal as ever. It seems fitting that the song introducing a compilation which mines her back catalogue features the line “I turned into someone I never imagined I’d be”. Witty as ever, then.

The only other major nod to her fuzz-loving side is in 2013 single “Sweet Dreams”, which is equal parts Nancy Sinatra, spaghetti-Western and grunge. Olsen’s howl in the chorus is ecstatic and electrifying – here, she seems to hover above the sea of quiet sadness that she drowns in for the rest of the album.

Four of the tracks are culled from the sessions for Burn Your Fire…, and along with two home demos (“Sans” and “How Many Disasters”), they make up this softer side of the album. Although they prove that Olsen’s ability to write warm crooning songs has been with her since the start of her career, the sheer number of warbling guitar-and-voice tracks makes Phases feel perhaps slightly too repetitive and sparse for just a casual listen.

For mega-fans, this will provide an exciting insight into Olsen at her most private and tender; for the rest of us, it’s a good compilation that doesn’t quite match up to the grandeur of her previous LPs.

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