Angel Olsen – ‘Big Time’ review: a vast emotional sweep that recalls the greats

Angel Olsen's sixth album turns a period of intense emotion into an assured, Americana-flecked triumph

Angel Olsen must have experienced an intense mix of emotions during the creation of her sixth studio album ‘Big Time’. In the months after she came out as gay to her parents, both of them died; she started recording three weeks after her mother’s funeral. Around the same time, she experienced the freedom of her first queer relationship, and the pain of her first queer heartbreak.

In keeping with that personal tumult (and, indeed, the record’s title), ‘Big Time’ is a record of huge emotional range. There is bold drama and there are deep and tender stretches of dark introspection.

The joy of personal freedom, the sorrow of loss, and the melancholy in-between is all present. Sometimes, as in life, it all mingles into one, and at others floats away in the confusion that exists in the gaps. “Tell me how I should feel? / How can this heart learn how to heal?” she sings on ‘Ghost On’, the record’s most introspective moment of all.

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Sometimes, within one song, she’ll swing dramatically from one extreme to the other with a sudden flourish of momentum, like when opener ‘All The Good Times’ drifts smoothly to its midway point, before an almighty roll of drums introduces a colossal crescendo of horns, trumpets and saxophones. Sometimes she’ll do it all at once, ‘Right Now’s epic all-encompassing sweep, for example.

It is not as if Olsen has ever shied away from emotion, not least on ‘Big Time’s stripped back predecessor ‘Whole New Mess’, yet she’s never presented it with quite this much of a flourish. Much of this is thanks to the way she’s incorporated the aesthetics of country music, Americana, vintage rock’n’roll and a hint of vintage Hollywood – it’s a record full of big, swooning lap steel, glitzy strings and casino house band horns.

It’s the kind of music that recalls the kind of artists who operate on universal levels – Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley or Emmylou Harris, for example. Olsen is a fitting successor; her Midwestern croon is so impeccably suited to this kind of music that it’s a wonder she ever sang any other way.

Just as on her recent EP of ’80s cover songs, ‘Aisles’, Olsen approached the decade’s tropes with care, and at no point does ‘Big Time’ descend into parody. Though it uses them in the same way those aforementioned greats did, to access the deep and real emotion at a song’s core and open it up to her listener as something irresistible.

Details

Angel Olsen - 'Big Time' artwork
Angel Olsen – ‘Big Time’ artwork

Release date: June 3

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Record label: Jagjaguwar

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