Jagjaguwar | 2022

Angel Olsen – Big Time

Album Review

Angel Olsen is a subtle musical chameleon. While she doesn’t transform her sound drastically from one album to the next, there’s always a degree of musical change with each new project she releases. Olsen arrived with 2012’s Half Way Home, an acoustic, focused debut album that placed her unique, quivering voice at the forefront. Two years later, she released Burn Your Fire for No Witness. This album catapulted her into the forefront of the indie music sphere. She traded her acoustic guitar for an electric one in her second album.

2016 saw the release of MY WOMAN, an album in which Olsen evolved from a singer-songwriter into a frontwoman for a rock ‘n’ roll band. This album shifted from the quiet, interpersonal songs that made up the previous two albums, instead focusing on a full-band sound. From the opener “Intern” to the undeniably energetic “Shut Up Kiss Me” and seven-minute opus “Sister,” MY WOMAN is an album that’s both contemporary and ageless.

Following up MY WOMAN might’ve seemed difficult to anyone other than Olsen, but she went in a different direction with 2019’s All Mirrors. This is Olsen’s “pop” album. Driving electronic drum beats, thick synths, and digital modulation makes up most of this album. The songs feel strangely dense, however. For the first time in her career, Olsen’s songwriting and vocals didn’t seem to mesh as perfectly with the music as before. There were still some highlights in this album, however—with “New Love Cassette” being one of Olsen’s best songs to date.

In less than a decade, Olsen ventured from one end of the musical spectrum to the other with relative ease. So what was she to do with her newest album? In Big Time, Olsen again looked towards the past. This time focusing on a folkier, more “country-centric” sound reminiscent of John Prine, The Band, and Wilco. And the results are spellbinding. Olsen’s voice, melodies, and lyrics work so perfectly with this genre’s classic instruments. The lap steel guitar and organ in the title track “Big Time” serve as a dreamy foundation for Olsen’s homage to this more emotional type of folk music. It’s no surprise Wilco’s own Jeff Tweedy covered “Big Time” the day the album came out.

Unlike All Mirrors—where Olsen’s voice and the more modern electronic production never quite blended together—Big Time showcases a more natural combination. Trading in synths for more “organic” instruments like lap steel guitars, pianos, and organs was a wise choice. Just listen to “Ghost On” to see what I mean. Front and center is Olsen’s unmistakable voice. With this album, Olsen’s lyricism delved into a more matter-of-fact style of songwriting. Not to say the songs are shallow or hold little meaning; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. There’s brilliance in the simplicity and profundity in the accessibility of each verse Olsen sings.

Big Time is timely and timeless. It’s a representation of Angel Olsen’s ability to effortlessly voyage from genre to genre without breaking a sweat. It’s impossible to know what will come next from Olsen, but one thing remains true: it will be different and exciting, as everything she’s released until now has been.