Review: Angel Olsen displays intimate and raw brilliance

Angel Olsen, “Whole New Mess” (Jagjaguwar)

If you’re looking for something completely new from Angel Olsen, “Whole New Mess” isn’t it. But if you’re looking for something raw, vulnerable and piercing, this album delivers.

“Whole New Mess” sees Olsen stripped down, processing the pain before the songs would become glossier versions of themselves. Nine of the 11 tracks on this newest album are featured on her 2019 release, “All Mirrors” but she plays the songs in their original form, recorded before her “All Mirrors” sessions.

If “All Mirrors” is a concert with an orchestra, “Whole New Mess” is a bedroom performance. Reverb and the occasional organ accompaniment are the only reminders that Olsen is performing for an audience at all. Left on their own, without strings and embellishment, the songs stand and remind audiences of the genius behind her writing.

“And all those people I thought knew me well/ After all that time they couldn’t tell/ How I lost my soul was just a shell,” she sings in “(Summer Song).” The lines hold the same power even without the full production that accompanied “Summer” on “All Mirrors.”

The two songs not featured on “All Mirrors” — “Whole New Mess” and “Waving, Smiling” — fit the scope and theme of the work as a whole. The album may revisit songs she’s already released, but there’s a recognition in the title track that moving forward sometimes means finding pain anew.

The album may not feature much in the way of new material, but it brings a new moment, one that’s appropriately matched to the current state of the world. As 2020 brought people into the quiet of their homes, Olsen brought listeners into the quiet of her songs, brought down from their cinematic glory to display their intimate brilliance.

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