Album Review: Angel Olsen - 'Big Time'

8 June 2022 | 2:30 pm | Roshan Clerke

"A radical shift for a songwriter whose songs have previously burned with an insatiable intensity."

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Angel Olsen has always sung about big emotions. But rather than following further in the footsteps of her genre-defying 2019 album, All Mirrors, when the symphonic scale of the music soared upwards into the stratosphere to meet the heady heights of Olsen’s voice, Big Time is her most unassuming record yet. Recorded in the wake of a tumultuous period of her personal life, Olsen’s sixth studio album finds the American singer-songwriter posing as a Janus-like figure, standing at the gateway between past and future, looking in both directions while confidently inhabiting the perpetually-transitional space in between. This contentment with the present is a radical shift for a songwriter whose songs have previously burned with an insatiable intensity.

Having made it through an especially difficult time following the recent deaths of both her parents, Olsen has seemingly found a deep and abiding source of rest and rejuvenation. Throughout the song that she has described as the album’s centrepiece statement, Through The Fires, she sings of being free from longing, letting go of pain, and learning to love without boundary. “I don’t know if you can take such a good thing coming to you,” she sings on another song, Ghost On, acknowledging her own worth and her capacity to give love, and also emphasising implicitly the need for reciprocity that self-respect requires.

Furthermore, it is perhaps no coincidence that Olsen has recently come out as queer, and her relationship with current partner, Adele Thibodeaux, is the wellspring from which at least one of these songs originates; the pair are credited as co-writers of the waltzing title track. The bittersweet timing of their relationship is reflected within a line that deserves its own place in the country music hall of fame: “Guess I had to be losin’ to get here on time.

The orchestral flourishes of All Mirrors remain, but they are subtly rendered in quiet, exquisite detail, and Olsen’s voice has never sounded more responsive and sensitively controlled than it does on songs like All The Flowers and Chasing The Sun. Gone from many of these recordings is any trace of sonic distortion or emotional bitterness. There is still yearning, although the restless sense of desire for something over the rainbow, something cosmic, that previously earned her comparisons to torch singers like Judy Garland, is directed here towards a deeper investment in something already present, tangible, and real.