Review Summary: Peaks and valleys
Angel Olsen’s previous album, 2019’s All Mirrors
, sounds like a million bucks, as the expression goes. A glistening slab of art pop, it shimmers and glows brightly in a wonderful array of gorgeous hues. But
, and this is a vitally important “but”, it never quite connected with me. The songs might be individually stunning, but they never managed to resonate on a personal level. Perhaps this was part of the design, given the stately grandiosity the music seems to aspire to, but the end result was my feeling that the album might as well have been crafted by a robot (although admittedly one with some undeniable golden pipes). With that in mind, I was quite curious what direction Olsen would go in next and whether future output would hit me in the heart and soul in the way that All Mirrors
did not. It turns out new album Big Time
is in some respects a sibling to its predecessor, but certainly also possesses a number of alluring moments which suggest a very different result.
These start early with opener “All The Good Times”, a tune you could write a dissertation about. For one thing, it sounds absolutely pristine, a continuation of the previous album’s impeccably huge sonic landscape. It’s the type of song which a listener could attempt to pigeonhole into about five different genre traditions, but its heart feels closest to a melancholy, slow-burning classic country tune (think Emmylou Harris). The track then builds to a fantastic climax, drenched in well-executed melodrama.
The title track comes next. While it’s probably likely to receive fewer over-the-top accolades than “All The Good Times”, it’s an excellent and virtually irresistible song (again country-tinged) which leaves the listener with the overriding impression that Angel Olsen has created a monument of an album here. Sadly, though, things don’t really hold up from here.
Third song “Dream Thing” is a notable step down from the first two tracks, and unfortunately leans closer to the quality level of the rest of the tracklist. It’s a slowed-down, reflective piece and has solid emotional appeal, but it’s also a bit sleepy and repetitive. The vulnerable “Ghost On”, with a particularly incredible vocal performance, and “This Is How It Works”, with its weepy country guitars, are both remarkable songs, but much of the rest of the tracklist struggles to justify its length (even if the album as a whole isn’t particularly sprawling), and the closing duet of tunes are both quiet and downbeat, a bit of a disappointment after some of the album’s astounding high points.
All told, Big Time
is an album about which it’s hard to satisfactorily summarize my thoughts (admittedly, a bad place for a reviewer to be). The short conclusion would be that this is a significantly more rustic album than All Mirrors
, with major country and folk influences joining that album’s lush art pop sound. Even the songs which lean towards the latter style are often gentle and delicate. It’s also a record which feels infinitely more personal, perhaps not surprising given all the changes which the singer-songwriter has experienced in the intervening three years: not only all the dramatic world events we’ve all lived through, but also the deaths of both her parents and the milestone of coming out publicly. While all of these factors make this album more appealing, at least from my perspective, there’s also an uncomfortable dichotomy between the more rootsy songs, which are astoundingly impressive, and the more art pop-ish numbers, which are good but rarely live up to the standard which Olsen previously set. Of that second set, even a tune like “Go Home”, with its formidable lyrics, doesn’t blow me away. I suspect that this is ultimately just a matter of personal preference, and plenty of other listeners might conclude the reverse.. All that can be said in the end is that this is a quality album, so give it a spin and let the discussion and debate begin.