American Indie/folk singer-songwriter Angel Olsen presents Phases, a fitting title for this collection of demos, B-sides, as well as some rare tracks that haven’t been released before. A collection that explores her wide range and documents her creative process. Suitable for fans new and attuned. LP and CD on Jagjaguwar.
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I don’t need to tell you that Angel Olsen has one of the most unique and malleable voices in indie rock. But I will: I’d argue she stretches her vocals as far in spirit and swagger as Tom Waits can over one album, hammering away at aphorisms, cooing at frequencies of deafening quiet and letting notes tremble on the periphery. Despite these deceptions, though, her music is very much the sum of its parts: intricately calibrated, every bass note sounds pored over, every accented strum a methodological exercise in crafting atmosphere.
I therefore posit that hearing ‘Phases’, a record of extra tracks, B-sides and covers, is weird. My idea of her music is one that’s finely-tuned and finished: this record unleashes the opposite. Fortunately, her drafts are as good as gold. Much of this record could exist on one of the albums prior to it: “Sweet Dreams”, with its mix of shambolic guitars and warm bass notes, sounds like it would be at home on ‘Burn Your Fire’, where producer John Congleton helped strike a more thunderous and psychedelic tone. The unbelievably lovely “California” sees Olsen strum and snark a love song full of her vocal maneuvers -- her voice wobbling so it can get steadied -- and feels perfect for the lounging folk of ‘Halfway Home’.
Olsen's experiments with production are never-ending: she loves to see how a track can be distanced to make it meander, taking the fog away on the very next track to activate the record again. Many of these tracks will appeal to fans of Olsen’s slower, stodgier atmospheres: her version of the Boss’s “Tougher than the Rest” maintains his lovely melodies and mantras, but strips it back into sparse, watery chords. “Special” is a slow, ascending march that gives a band the chance to meander into the kind of loss “Wild Fire” detailed. “How Many Disasters” sounds like a homely, absent-minded run through of a typically good Olsen song -- the strum patterns feel well done and Olsen sound as on point as ever, suggesting, quite appropriately, that an Angel Olsen b-side is never far from being fully formed. RIYL: Angel Olsen?
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