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Angel Olsen: Big Time

By Melanie Broussalian

It’s safe to say life has been complicated for Olsen since her critically acclaimed 2019 release, All Mirrors. Olsen decided, after processing past traumas and accepting her identity, to embrace her queerness and come out to her parents upon finding new love. Three days after celebrating this newfound freedom and her truest sense of self, her father passed away. Tragedy struck again two weeks later when her mother was sent to the ER and also passed. Throughout this whirlwind of grief, Olsen’s relationship grew stronger and deeper, even in its newness.

Big Time toes the line between finding pure happiness in the midst of heavy loss. The album’s title track, written together with Olsen’s partner, is a hopeful love song that acknowledges the rough road she’s traveled with the repeating line, “Guess I had to be losin’ to get here on time.” “All the Flowers” is a relaxed and lilting song that could easily have been a Tammy Wynette hit in its time. Olsen is such a master of her craft that without knowing her, you feel such a deep ease and relief that she’s found someone to share her life with. But she doesn’t keep her grief far away, either. “This Is How It Works” paints an almost unsettlingly visceral portrait of loss. The lyrics “I’m so tired of saying I’m tired/It’s a hard time again” and “I’m moving everything around/I won’t get attached to the way that it was” shine a unique light not on the effects of immediate loss, but the ongoing, nonlinear healing process.

Sonically, Big Time couldn’t be more different than All Mirrors. Olsen has traded synths and heavy beats for swelling strings, slide guitars and twinkling pianos. Recorded and produced with Jonathan Wilson, Olsen taps into country sounds of yore, pulling inspiration from JJ Cale, Linda Ronstadt and Kitty Wells. The essence of her vocal delivery still maintains its echoey, reverb-heavy signature, especially in songs like “Right Now” and “Go Home.” The album’s final track, “Chasing the Sun,” is an intensely introspective love song written from the perspective of someone whose greatest demonstration of affection is just being there when times get tough.

Whereas All Mirrors and other past albums approached heartache from a place of escape—we were all on the run with her, savoring every cinematic moment—Big Time comes instead from a place of grounding, even the darkest of times. I hesitate to call her sonic and artistic approach “new” or even a “reinvention;” while this isn’t the Angel Olsen we’re used to, the combination of her earnest songwriting and soaring vocals against a lush, old-school country backdrop make it feel more like a homecoming. I hope in the happiness she’s found she continues to explore the endless possibilities of her artistry.

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