Angel Olsen: Big Time (digital outlets)

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Angel Olsen: Big Time (digital outlets)

On previous albums American singer-songwriter Angel Olsen has traversed broad territory from subdued, downbeat Brill Building pop to alt.country, glacial rock and influences from Fifties ballads.

But her heart often expresses an ineffable sadness, an emotional torpor brought on by life's defeats. She writes from an unalloyed honesty, and – raised in a foster family, moving through the Christian punk scene, finding her milieu in alt.country affiliations – Olsen has diverse experiences to inform her art.

Before Big Time, her sixth album, Olsen's life had happiness and hope (she came out as gay) but in the weeks before these recording she suddenly lost both parents.

Given the poetically refined candour of her lyrics -- many opaque enough to refer to a previous relationship break-up as much as the bereavements -- Big Time could have come off as a bleak autobiography or uncomfortable eavesdropping on her pain.

Certainly the hauntingly fraught Go Home (“the world has changed . . . I wanna go home, go back to small things, I don't belong here”) can be uneasy listening. But with “we watched it all burn down and did nothing” she steps from the personal into something more universal, and the shift from low intimacy to anguished torment carries it across its subtle bedding of Velvet Underground-like moody and minimalist menace.

On these 10 songs, some with gentle string arrangements, Olsen grounds herself in mainstream country (All the Good Times, the title track), mesmerising ballads (Dream Thing, Ghost On), lush Fifties noir-pop (Through the Fires), spacious alt.country (This is How It Works) and appropriately closes with the overly-lushly orchestrated ballad Chasing the Sun.

But Olsen uses such approachable, familiar vehicles to convey a beautiful, compelling and personal fragility.

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You can hear this album at Spotify here

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