Finally, Angel Olsen has given us a cuffing season anthem
Angel Olsen’s album, All Mirrors, out today on Rough Trade, is about the reflections we see in other people, how one might get carried away by what they project on someone else. In other words, it is about love. In characteristic Angel Olsen fashion, the album is full of questions about whether we can ever know another person — if we can ever really know ourselves.
Olsen, who started her career as a folk musician working with Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy) has historically railed against audience and media perceptions of her identity. She got tired of being typecast as sad indie-folk girl so, in 2016, essentially played a prank on everyone with “Intern,” from her album My Woman. Impishly pleased with leading her listeners to believe she’d be releasing a synth-pop record, the album was instead a melange of folk, rock, and pop, with lyrics about time, change, and truth. It seems almost like a fixation — who is the real Angel Olsen? Does she know? Do any of us know who we are, really, if a person is always changing?
On All Mirrors, Olsen continues asking these questions. Concerned with truth, concerned with love, concerned with the truth of love. For the first time, Olsen recruited a 12-piece string section, and she basks in the kinds of synths she only dipped her toes in on My Woman. It’s a fuck you to expectations, and to genre. Stasis benefits no one.
Olsen takes her sound in more directions than it's ever gone before. It’s got quiet, introspective tracks like “Tonight” and “Summer,” foot-tapping slow burns like “New Love Cassette,” sweeping, ominous songs like the Zola Jesus-reminiscent “Impasse,” and the borderline jangly, dynamic pop-rock tune “What It Is,” which contains some of my favorite lyrics on the album (“Knowing that you love someone / Doesn't mean you ever were in love,” she sings). But the real standout, for me, is “Chance,” the record’s finale.
If the birthday listed on her Wikipedia page is indeed correct, then Angel Olsen is an Aquarius with her Venus in Sagittarius — I did her chart, sorry Angel — and that follows. The fact that she loves to keep everyone constantly guessing, gleefully impossible to pin down, that’s the Aquarius. The way she sings mercurially about love, how you can tell she’s passionate but values her independence above all else, that’d be her Venus.
It’s crystal clear on “Chance,” a languid, elastic-sounding song on which she sings about craving a shot at love, but also that she’s not looking for forever. The song begins with a question: “What is it you think I need? / Maybe it’s hard to see,” tying this song to the rest of the album’s theme. The track really picks up when Olsen croons, “I'm leaving once again / Making my own plans,” right as the rest of the band joins the piano. “I'm not looking for the answer / Or anything that lasts.” I love that Angel Olsen’s songs are never about just one thing. They are complex, the way love is. The way she is in love. A few moments later, she asks this potential lover, “If we got to know each other / How rare is that?” And later, “All that space in between where we stand / Could be our chance.”
Olsen is a romantic through-and-through. The stereotype about romantics being fickle in love is true, but it’s only because we throw ourselves into things too deeply and too quickly before realizing what’s really up. We have a tendency toward intense attraction, and we like to think we’re totally smitten, often blindly consumed by whirlwind romances. It’s what happens beyond that initial swept-up feeling that gets tricky. Olsen knows. “It's hard to say forever love / Forever's just so far.” Forever is a really long time. It’s hard to truly get to know someone, sometimes it takes years if it ever really happens. If she’s always wondering about her true self if that self is always evolving, how can she commit to forever?
But even though Olsen knows the danger of falling head-over-heels at first meet (“I've had a love / Worst feeling I've ever had is gone”), she still wants it. Even if she knows it won’t be forever. That’s what makes “Chance” the perfect fall love song, a cuffing season anthem. “Why don't you say you're with me now?” she asks. Even if it’s just for the cold months. And then she closes out the song, and the record, repeating, “With all of your heart? / With all of your heart? / With all of your heart?”