Album of the Week: Angel Olsen, 'Whole New Mess'

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Angel Olsen, 'Whole New Mess'
Angel Olsen, 'Whole New Mess' (Jagjaguwar)
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Angel Olsen's All Mirrors was one of the strongest albums of 2019: her most compelling batch of songs yet, buoyed by elaborate, often gargantuan production. Her new album, Whole New Mess, presents many of those same songs in a stripped-down fashion, casting her songwriting talents in a new light.

The narrative is essentially set now: All Mirrors and Whole New Mess will be evaluated against each other depending on a listener's preference in production. Whereas All Mirrors made these songs sound like viewing a distant mountain range, Whole New Mess makes things strikingly intimate. The big takeaway from hearing the songs this way is the inherent robustness of the compositions: they could hold up in any context. The previous incarnation of "Lark Song" relied heavily on thundery bombast, but here, the emotional trauma resonates as much as ever; it's one of the best songs of the year, for the second year in a row. The darkness of "(New Love) Cassette" permeates as strongly as ever, even without the Gainsbourg strings of the original, while "What It Is (What It Is)" lives up to its reputation as one of the sprightliest songs on All Mirrors to close out this collection with a version that feels like it could be sung around a bonfire. There are even a few new-ish songs on the album, including the stark title track, and "Waving, Smiling," which sounds like a lost standard from the 1950s.

Whole New Mess is fittingly titled, as it's a whole new take on songs that we've spent the last year internalizing, and it's nice to see that Olsen's gifts are strong enough to make it an essential collection, as opposed to what might have seemed superfluous in other hands. There's a lot of emotional weight to these songs, but it's a credit to Angel Olsen that she was able to bring these feelings to life, not just once, but twice.

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5 Photos

  • Angel Olsen performs in The Current studio
    Angel Olsen portrait at The Current. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Angel Olsen performs in The Current studio
    Angel Olsen portrait at The Current. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Angel Olsen performs in The Current studio
    Angel Olsen performs in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Angel Olsen performs in The Current studio
    Angel Olsen performs in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
  • Angel Olsen performs in The Current studio
    Angel Olsen performs in The Current studio. (Nate Ryan | MPR)

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