Angel Olsen’s new album Whole New Mess is out on August 28th via Jagjaguwar.
As I’m starting to write this review, a Facebook notification tells me that alt country singer-songwriter Angel Olsen is having a concert in the town I lived pre-COVID. Someone forgot to cancel it and now there are hundreds of people virtually attending this nonexistent concert with an admirable degree of nonchalance. It’s a whole new world out there and it’s making the old one seem fake.
In her recent interview for Pitchfork Olsen said touring is not the ideal way for her to share her music. If it were up to her, she would only do a few shows a year and skip all the deceptive parts of her career-show. This year she got the chance to abandon the familiar patterns and to do things in whatever order. This way of thinking gave birth to her new album. Whole New Mess was in fact recorded before All Mirrors and was always meant to be released, but maybe it wouldn’t happen so soon if 2020 tour happened.
The album includes a pair of unreleased songs and old-new versions of those recorded on last years’s All Mirrors. The songs are rearranged and so is the air about them. Olsen’s song-stories dealing with the questionable relationship of gain and loss are now reaching not for your ear, but for that tender bone folk music always had the power to bend and twist. Grief is indeed an unnerving and somewhat primitive experience. Why else should we try so hard to cover it up and only be true to ourselves when we’re tuning into music that isn’t ours?
Despite lacking embellishment and smooth studio sound Olsen’s song remain far from simple, just as the thoughts she’s trying to pass on. They are hauntingly beautiful breathing exercises burdened with years of waiting on what we’re promised as impatient kids and what feels like failure when we finally get it, all that romance and all those lessons in sadness.
The main outbreaks of this album, ‘(We Are All Mirrors)’ and ‘Lark Song’, match in its eeriness Franju’s 1960’s film Les yeux sans visage. Once you see it you can’t unhear it! The verse “Losin’ beauty, at least at times it knew me” evokes the painful surrealism of both song and film. To be honest, this song inspired most of the thoughts I have on this album. It is a dense experience and it might take a lifetime to hear everything that’s on it.
In the above-mentioned interview Olsen also said:
“As I get deeper and deeper into this shitstorm of whatever the music industry shall be, I feel less and less moved to want to keep advertising to people something that should be so apparently meaningful.”
Apparently meaningful. How to describe what is apparently meaningful? It’s probably best not to. From my experience, there is an intrinsic need for minimalism when we’re vulnerable. In the language of music, the deepest sorrows and greatest joys have been announced with a voice and an occasionally unsettling silence between two strokes. It goes without saying that this tendency to strip things down is becoming a trend we can all enjoy. Hey, even Taylor Swift is coming around.
Recently a film director Alejandro Jodorowsky said that pandemic will change art because people are now aware of their mortality and are no longer interested in superhuman narratives and violence, classics of our time. People are now given the time to rediscover the “bare necessities of life” and a lot will have to go. This experiment of an album proves how illuminating dealing with our darkness or, as Olsen puts it, “burning trash” can be. This year just might be the “Twilight Zone” episode we’ve all been waiting for.
Pre-order Whole New Mess via Bandcamp.