The barely audible synth drone and plaintive down strum of guitar that introduce Angel Olsen’s fourth record initially hint that she is picking up from where she left off on her previous album My Woman. Not that this would be a bad thing. My Woman was, after all, a dazzling sucker punch of a record and definitive highlight of 2016. However, as ‘Lark’ gradually builds and the string section settles in towards the end of the first verse, Olsen opens up the taps, signalling a seismic shift in her musical ambition; a nod to something quite different to that which has come before. The following six minutes of euphoric swells and echoing lows are a towering indication of an emboldened new direction. Such is its show-stopping power, it raises a serious concern that the rest of the record may never recover.
Thankfully these concerns prove to be unfounded. All Mirrors pivots and weaves, gracefully easing through styles and moods. The record comes decked out in classic brass fittings, its detailed nuances a homage to a record collection worn down by gramophone needles.
Olsen’s early records were open and spacious affairs as she crafted an arresting, yet supple sound exposed to the scrutiny of the elements. Embroiled with beautiful melodies and constructed with the tentative care of a house of cards, they held the faded glamour of stately homes with the roof tiles blown off. My Woman established a more assertive tone, shutting out the threat of the storm. It was an altogether bolder record with a just a hint of braggadocio.
All Mirrors is seductive and mesmerising, pulling a curtain around the listener. Having always possessed the ability to grace her sound with a rare vintage, Olsen mines Smooth Jazz, Blues, Classic Pop and Country in a time-shifting paradigm. If her image was previously held in that of a dimly lit jazz bar as smoke rings haloed the stage All Mirrors evokes backstage areas with light bulb encircled mirrors, a Hollywood charm and the twinkle of the ballroom glitter ball. Legends lie in the moments where voice and strings unite, infused with the power and prestige of Doris Day and Ella Fitzgerald.
The front cover of My Woman saw Olsen standing slightly to the side with her gaze fixed on something in the distance, a self-imposed detachment. In contrast on All Mirrors she is pictured face on, staring dead ahead. It is indicative of the confidence and comfortable ease with which she presents this set of songs, the scope of which few could pull off.
On All Mirrors Olsen’s gaze is lifted from the creaky floorboards to the illuminated rafters. It is a record about letting go; of inhibitions, of those that are holding you back, even of your former self. In taking a step outside to look back in Olsen presents a self-aware evaluation of life and love, and all the apologies, forgiveness, acceptance and hope that comes with that. In displaying yourself proudly as you truly are, you allow yourself to shine with a radiant assuredness, to step from the flames of the past into the new world, slamming the fire escape behind you.
Olsen’s conviction shines through on the glamorous synth-pop of the title track. It stalks the smooth electronic pulse of ‘New Love Cassette’, a song that sounds like Beach House at the proms, and it drives the foot-stomping nostalgia of ‘What It Is’. Even at it’s most vulnerable on ‘Tonight’ as Olsen details the pained acceptance of letting go of what’s hurting you most, All Mirrors has a sonic resoluteness that charts its course into an epiphany of coursing emotive resilience.
From here Olsen could seemingly go anywhere. Within the records dramatic, theatrical entice there are moments of pomp and grandeur nestled next to feathered heartache, periods of indelibly cool swagger that fall into the closing tracks mournful eulogies. Records like this don’t come along often. When they do it’s better to sit back and bask in them, than worry about what might come next.
All Mirrors is released on October 4th on JAGJAGUWAR.