Angel Olsen’s 2016 album My Woman was a slice of pop perfection. It melded her earlier folk aesthetics with a new, more accessible sound that was to see her gain new fans and increased recognition. It had slow, brooding masterpieces like ‘Sister’ and ‘Woman’ but also wasn’t afraid to bust out a radio friendly chorus on songs such ‘Shut Up and Kiss Me’, ‘Intern’, and ‘Not Gonna Kill You.’ It managed to tread a line that many other artists have failed to when making such transformations and ended up being one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year. I still have it on regular rotation.
She followed this up with a much less interesting, but still enjoyable, collection of covers. 2017’s Phases went kind of unnoticed. That didn’t prevent the hype machine from going into overdrive, though, when her first proper album since My Woman was announced for an October release earlier this year. Single ‘Lark’ accompanied this announcement and was a sign that she had taken those slower, brooding songs from My Woman and turned them up to eleven. She’d added strings and huge arrangements and was making the absolute most out of her extremely powerful voice. ‘Lark’ was a real sign of her intentions and is one of her strongest songs to date.
And when the album dropped, it turned out to be a real indication of yet another change of style and pace for Olsen. ‘Lark’ opens the album and is followed by the equally lush and expansive title song. ‘All Mirrors’ features perhaps the best refrain on the whole album. The beautifully delivered and repeated line of ‘Losing beauty/At least at once it knew me’ is a real standout moment on the whole piece and a sometimes needed reminder of the way with words that made her previous work so enjoyable.
All Mirrors continues to have these majestic moments, with Olsen employing her full vocal register alongside some truly stunning orchestral arrangements and sweeping sounds. ‘New Love Cassette’ is a peak, and ‘Impasse’ sees Olsen create an intense and involving four minutes of music that could almost be a Bond song if it wasn’t so bloody good.
But in the end, there is something missing from this album that holds it back from the levels of My Woman. After a hell of a lot of listens, I feel that this might be largely down to a lack of contrast between the songs and a lack of a pop sensibility that made the last work so special. So many of these songs are slow, lush, and sweeping that it ends up only being those real standout pieces that stick with you after a long time spent with the album. And when the more poppy songs do appear, such as ‘Too Easy’ and ‘Spring’, they just don’t have the same bite and intrigue that songs such as ‘Shut Up and Kiss Me’ did. The exception to that is ‘What It Is’, which is an outright stomper.
All that said, this is not a negative review of All Mirrors. There are exceptional moments and it is enjoyable to see an artist continue to tweak their sound and try new things. My Woman was always going to be difficult to follow and she has followed it with a great piece of work that shows off her voice and songwriting skills. It just doesn’t reach the levels of its predecessor.
Words by Fran Slater