Angel Olsen – ‘Phases’ Review


US folk singer-songwriter Angel Olsen’s collection of unreleased material, B-sides and rarities is a gorgeous thing indeed

A year down the line from the release of her spectacular third album ‘My Woman’, singular songwriter Angel Olsen is staving off her legions of new fans with a collection of unreleased material and rarities made since the release of her debut EP, 2010’s ‘Strange Cacti’. ‘Phases’ is a gentle but solid thing, a quiet record that speaks loudly and encompasses the past 80 years of music, from the 1930s Americana of the Carter Family and 1950s doo-wop through to 1960s Laurel Canyon singer-songwriterism, 1970s outlaw country and early 2000s anti-folk. Like Cat Power before her, the North Carolina-based Olsen’s take on folk music is intensely intimate and there are moments on ‘Phases’ where you feel like it’s just the two of you alone in a room as she croons the timeless, stripped back likes of ‘For You’, ‘May As Well’ and a hushed cover of Bruce Springsteen’s 1987 ‘Tougher Than The Rest’, accompanied only by acoustic guitar, perfectly suited to the Boss’s heartland rocking melancholy. It’s this same sadness that Lana Del Rey channels, but stripped of the Hollywood gloss and directed by an eager media studies student instead of David Lynch.

Another cover, ‘Endless Road’ – which originally featured on classic US western show Bonanza – is the perfect fit for Olsen’s otherworldly, vintage vocal, making for a stunning two minutes of lonesome fireside balladry that’s neither camp nor overly cowboy-ish. ‘Fly On Your Wall’ – a slow-burning delight with the beefier addition of meditative drums and a graceful touch of Leonard Cohen’s phrasing – is the most recent track here, originally contributed to anti-Trump fundraising record ‘Our First 100 Days’ at the start of 2017.

The pace picks up for ‘California’, a perky Joni Mitchell-style offering that shuffles with a summery lilt while ‘Sweet Dreams’ grooves along like a steamy garage-rock classic. But those aside, ‘Phases’ is a deeply autumnal album, perfectly for listening to while strolling down dimly lit side streets with crisp leaves underfoot.


Release Date: November 10, 2017