Angel Olsen releases full-length ‘Phases’

by Isaac Shur

Angel Olsen releases full-length ‘Phases’

Angel Olsen

Jagjaguwar · November 10, 2017

Angel Olsen releases full-length ‘Phases’

Angel Olsen has not been known to stick to one genre. She began as a lo-fi folk singer, her voice drowned in filters on the 2011 EP Strange Cacti. And over the course of her three following LPs, she slowly transformed into a breakout indie-rock hit, culminating on her most recent LP, the critically acclaimed MY WOMAN. That record saw Olsen reimagining her sound, almost cutting her folk roots entirely to burst onto the indie scene as an innovative singer-songwriter. She’s resurfaced again, this time not with a full album, but with Phases, a collection of demos, B-sides, and covers.

If you were hoping for punchy, high-energy tracks from the cutting room floor of MY WOMAN, you’ll be disappointed. Phases is much more akin to Olsen’s earlier work, mostly providing us with sleepy, minimal folk rock cuts. Longtime fans will recognize many of the tracks on this project either from Olsen’s live shows or from the bonus tracks on Burn Your Fire For No Witness. That, coupled with the fact the first two tracks on the compilation (‘Fly on Your Wall’ and ‘Special’) were released as singles, doesn’t leave us with a whole lot of new material on here. ‘Fly On Your Wall’ might be my favorite cut off this compilation, as it feels like a slow yet powerful march and builds tension to a considerable sonic pay off. But as the project continues, there’s little variation in production, mood, and tone. Olsen is working with a minimalistic toolbox of sounds, which is great if you enjoy the tools she chose. However in my opinion, 40 minutes of low-key indie folk might be nice for a lazy Sunday morning, but not much else.

‘Sans’ and ‘Sweet Dreams’ provide a bit of variation and reinvigorate the project to some degree. But by the time we get to cuts like ‘California’ and ‘Tougher Than The Rest,’ Olsen’s calm, powerful, and gorgeous voice isn’t enough to keep my attention for long, since we’ve had almost no contrasting tones throughout the project. Don’t get me wrong, Olsen’s vocal performances are always top notch, and she gives off some serious Joni Mitchell vibes, especially on ‘California.’ But bare bones tracks like ‘For You’ just don’t feel special when juxtaposed to eleven other strikingly similar cuts, and Angel’s voice can only carry a project so far.

But after all, this is a compilation, not an album. A hastier artist with a more aggressive label might have tried to pass this kind of project off as full LP, but I think Angel Olsen just genuinely wanted to purge her back catalogue for the enjoyment of her fans. Longtime Angel Olsen fans will enjoy this project, and for those who hopped on when MY WOMAN broke out, this is a great chance to see if Olsen’s older albums are worth giving a listen, since Phases obviously harkens back those projects. Overall, this is a decent b-sides collection and a nice edition to Angel Olsen’s discography.

Listen to Phases here: