Album Reviews

Angel Olsen – Strange Cacti (Bathetic Records) – Album Review


“I don’t need my body, I’m floating away”

There is some really lovely song writing in this short collection by St. Louis [via Chicago] native Angel Olsen. Showing careful construction and always seeming to move forward, each of these six songs is succinct and beautifully crafted. It’s a testament to Ms Olsen’s skill that often complex structures seem light as a feather.  There is no bloat or padding in these works and it’s to their immense benefit.

When much recent indie folk music tends towards lush and rich instrumentation, Ms Olsen has the welcome knack of knowing what to leave out, letting her voice do the work.

The Production is simple, clean and unobtrusive, and the entire EP gives the impression it was recorded in one go on one track. (In a good way!)

Tiniest Lights’ opens with low dynamic guitar and a minor key. The whispering melody moves like a stripped down take on Rogers and Hart’s ‘Where or When’, before a rousing finish “I’ll be looking out for the tiniest light, to shine”  Here, vocal range and control is impressive and is reminiscent of Kristen Hersh’s signing on her debut ‘Green’.

But it’s disservice to pigeon hole this voice, there is so much variety crammed into the brief running time. Get a load of the sweet simplicity of second track ‘If it’s Alive, It will’ –“I used to think I was the only one, but I’ve learned quite a few things since then…” Olsen muses, sounding a bit like a heart-broken Zooey Deschanel singing Buddy Holly.

The musical accompaniment is spare across this collection, yet it can be intricate. Careful and precise finger picking features on ‘Tiniest Lights’ and we get a fuller taste of Ms Olsen’s guitar talents on ‘So that we can be still’.

Some things Cosmic’ is an astonishing gem, with a lilting melody, delicate but confident vocals, and supremely effortless craft in tone and pacing. It has a timeless quality and it might have been written by Stephen Foster (If he was practicing transcendental meditation perhaps).

Themes of disappointment, loss and resignation feature but there is also positivity. There are messages of wisdom gained from bitter experience –brief missals full of after-the-fact assuredness.  “Just know the height you reach is the distance you could fall” is the warning on ‘If it’s Alive, It will’. Elsewhere there is perhaps recrimination, defiance, or maybe it’s willing self-sacrifice; ‘Drunk and with Dreams’ finishing with the parting shot of “Lift me up just to bury me under”

2011’s EP ‘Strange Cacti’ by Angel Olsen, has been repressed and re-released by Balthetic Records.

Buy the EP here!

(Those without the space for shelves of vinyl can find download options on the same site!)

Residents of (or visitors to) Ireland (the Joinery in Dublin on the 2nd of May) and Britain can see Angel Olsen Live in Early May 2013, sandwiched between dates on the west and east coast of North America. Full details here: Angel Olsen

Review by CD

Track List:

1. Tiniest Lights

2. If It’s Alive, It Will

3. So That We Can Be Still

4. Drunk And With Dreams

5. Some Things Cosmic

6. Creator, Destroyer

Categories: Album Reviews

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