REVIEW: Angel Olsen – Aisles EP

My first question is why? Although I think I can come up with a couple of answers off my own back. The pandemic has been a slightly frustrating time to be a massive Angel Olsen fan as the normally selective and restrained star has suddenly started pumping out music and merch at a rate that is more befitting to King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizzard. What has been particularly interesting is that the material she has been releasing has not been the normal forward-thinking and ever-evolving music we have come to expect from her, but has instead been a set of releases that, in some way or other, looks back at the past instead. With Whole New Mess that worked wonderfully, as Angel treated us to a set of early sketches and drafts of songs from All Mirrors that actually imbued them with new life and gave us some fascinating insight into her processes. In my review for that album, I wrote that Angel had now earned her place among the artists who would get an immediate pre-order from me whenever she released a record.

But she tested this almost immediately. My current frustration with Angel started with the release of Song of the Lark and Other Far Memories, a beautiful boxset that packaged up All Mirrors, Whole New Mess, and another new LP. At over £60 this felt like a bit of a slap in the face to loyal fans who had shelled out on most of the music already. But I quickly forgave her. I can totally understand the need to bring in revenue at this time and, while I was mostly upset because I couldn’t justify shelling out on this gorgeous piece of kit, I knew that the music she was selling was exceptional. If people wanted to pay for it, that was up to them.

I nearly started back on the pre-order train when she announced the Aisles EP until the guy I normally buy my records from gave me reason to pause, pointing out that it was made up entirely of covers and that releases such as that were often shite. I decided to listen first. And thank god that I did. Lee from Record Culture might have cost himself a sale there, but he saved me from taking up space with a record that would simply never have gotten a listen. I’ve been playing this EP for two weeks now hoping that something will click for me, that I will find a way into this release from one of my favourite acts in the game today.

But it isn’t happening. So I return to my original question. Why? Why did Angel decide to release an EP of 80s cover versions that take away almost everything that is special about her as an artist and performer? Why did we get a release of 5 songs that weren’t that interesting in the first place being made no more interesting by the cover versions? The cover of ‘Safety Dance’ must be the worst song Angel has committed to record. ‘If You Leave’ by Orchestral Manouevres in The Dark is an overblown 80s mess in its original form, and that doesn’t change with this 2021 update. And I can’t be the only person who wishes we could just forget that ‘Forever Young’ exists. Can I?

I don’t know the original version of Billy Idol’s ‘Eyes Without A Face’, but the cover here is the only song I find particularly tolerable. But to me, that doesn’t explain the existence of this release. I read that Angel herself has said she doesn’t want people to take this seriously, but if that’s the case then why release a vinyl version that costs £20. I’m sure that some of my fellow Angel fans will see this and tell me to cheer the fuck up. They probably have a point. The 80s have never really been my thing musically and the majority of the songs here are ones I wish I had never heard in original form, let alone in a cover. But mostly I just find it a bit disappointing that an artist who is normally so exciting and innovative is releasing something that feels so far away from those two adjectives. Anyway. Rant over. I’m off to go and browse some more record sales, waiting for Song of the Lark to drop below £40 so I can stop being so fucking bitter about it.

Words by Fran Slater

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