Now that October is upon us and our days of sun are numbered, let’s take a moment to bow our heads and thank Angel Olsen. With her fifth album, All Mirrors, the singer-songwriter has produced the ideal soundtrack for the rich, gloom-soaked days of autumn. All Mirrors is ambitious and winding. It unfolds in acts, like a grand opera. Multiple tracks feature expansive string accompaniments, and Olsen’s register jumps from eerie serenade to full-on scream. The lyrics reveal Olsen’s inner meditations on age, ambition, love and loss.
The six-minute opening track, “Lark,” begins softly. Violins swell into a maddening cacophony until Olsen’s voice provides relief: “To forget you is to hide, there’s still so much left to recover / If only we could start again, pretending we don’t know each other.” Olsen told Huck, “That song for me is really about purging the stuff that was thrown in my face from the distant past.” By the end of the song, Olsen belts through distorting effects: “Trouble from the start / Trouble with the heart,” which might be seen as a sort of thesis for the entire album.
My favorite tracks on All Mirrors are “Spring” and “What It Is,” which come towards the middle of the album. If this record were a movie, “Spring” would play during the protagonist’s dark moment of realization, and the ensuing “What It Is” would underscore her path to redemption. It’d be a montage of the character attempting to correct all her wrongdoings: giving roses to strangers, petting dogs and executing other standard karmic point grabs. The audience would watch closely as the protagonist learns to take the wins and losses as they come.
Writers often have trouble describing Angel Olsen without reducing her into a musical manic pixie dream girl, here to charm us with her strange style and anti-love love songs. She’s been called “indie’s dark star,” a “mercurial” and “talismanic” artist, like she is magic. I agree that Olsen’s music has an otherworldly quality to it, but I don’t think we can label her as anything definitive quite yet, or ever.
As is the inclination when confronted with any powerful artist, especially one who articulates emotion so clearly, people want to categorically understand Angel Olsen. Don’t fall into that trap. If you approach this album like another piece in the Angel Olsen puzzle, you won’t get far. In Olsen’s own words, this is “an album about changing.” Open yourself up to change, and enjoy the psychic ride of All Mirrors.
Anna Grace Lee is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].