Angel Olsen – Phases (2017)
By Ian Bremner, Old Rookie
On her 2016 album My Woman, Angel Olsen clearly took a step into a larger, bolder sonic direction. Olsen’s solo career started out as a lo-fi singer-songwriter with a haunting voice and the simple strums of a guitar, but My Woman managed to retain the artist’s delicate intimacy while at the same time representing a punchier, louder and more complete sound than she had been known for previously. I guess you could say “My Woman” represented a new “phase,” for the Nashville-based artist?
Whether you want to call 2017’s Phases an “album” or a “collection of b-sides, demos and rarities” makes no difference: either way, the record shows Olsen continuing to reach new places and demonstrating how far she’s come.
The dozen tracks on Phases offer us a glimpse into the past, present and possible artistic future for Olsen. She moves between a whispering hush, a slight yodel and full-on front-woman, and all versions suit her. Songs like “Fly On Your Wall” and My Woman-session holdout “Special” are fully-realized compositions that, for whatever reason, had previously been left on the cutting room floor whereas “California,” “Sans” and “Tougher Than The Rest” are demo-styled home recordings that recall Olsen’s early work.
While parts of Phases are clearly incomplete works, that’s part of the intrigue. The record reveals the songwriting process for a musician that’s in the midst of her artistic prime. You couldn’t be blamed if your brain sometimes ponders what the songs may sound like with the full band treatment, but in most cases, the songs work well with a bare bones approach too.
Ultimately, long-time Olsen fans will enjoy this peak into her song diary whereas newer fans may take Phases as an inviting door into her past work. Both reasons to check it out. – (8/10)
Note: A version of this review also appeared on Seattle Music Blog Old Rookie.