Album Review: Angel Olsen – Big Time

There was something darkly cinematic about Angel Olsen’s previous record All Mirrors. It possessed a grand sense of gothic opulence in it’s varied and imaginative instrumentation and Olsen’s beguiling persona seemed to match this new direction. New album Big Time is a very different proposition, reflecting a significant phase and new bearing in the thirty-five year old’s life; Olsen was coming out as gay as she was writing the record, generating a sense of new beginnings, but this attitude was tragically offset by the loss of both her parents who passed within weeks of each other in 2021. This has resulted in an album wrought with a melancholy cadence, but with compassionate, optimistic eyes fully on the road ahead.

Album opener ‘All the Good Times’ encapsulates this perfectly. Olsen’s warm, countryfied vocals are gently wrapped within a tender musical package that warms the heart. Poignant slide guitar adds subtle emphasis to the initially delicate track, but even at the point where the song begins to swell to some kind of peak, it still manages to feel incredibly tranquil.

Angel Olsen’s vocals have always possessed a timeless quality and the title track, accompanied by warm harmonies reinforces this concept. The song maintains the album opener’s clement disposition. Despite the landscape these songs have been forged in, the tone is silky smooth. The ethereal ‘Dream Thing’ and ‘Ghost On’ do manage to slow things down further, but there’s still enough colour in the tapestry Olsen weaves to retain an invigorating sense of life. Placing Angel’s vocals up front in such delicious fashion appears to be a pretty distinctive decision that has been made on this record. Her words are the focal point, and this is what we should be paying attention to this time around without question.

The vocals on ‘All the Flowers’ combine a particularly British folk flavour with the album’s more Americana/country aesthetic, and the traditional instrumentation of this track melds seamlessly with more contemporary elements to create a song that possesses the soothing quality of a lullaby. So far this is the abiding quality of this gorgeous record. The scale of the canvas was vast on the previous record; this time there is an intimacy and a simplicity that gently embraces the listener. This is only threatened occasionally; ‘Right Now’ introduces a ragged electric guitar amongst the sweeping strings, but this disarming jolt is planed out by the soft slide guitar of ‘This is How it Works’.

The album does not really waver then in its raison d’etre, despite the more destablilising drama of ‘Go Home’ suggesting otherwise; the track still ends on a sea of calm which ‘Through the Fires’ maintains before ‘Chasing the Sun’ adds a spot of golden era Hollywood sentiment to end proceedings. It’s a fascinating journey and so different to the previous album’s peregrination. Then again, Angel Olsen is in a very different place. This wonderful record is proof of that.

Iain Fox