"I'm loving you big time", Angel Olsen declares on her latest record, 'Big Time'. It’s a liberating proclamation of love in a field of overgrowing loss for the musician. After years of grappling with her sexuality, Olsen came out to her parents, where her father passed three days later; shortly afterwards, so did her mother. During the pandemic, she had also experienced her first queer breakup, and went on to find love with her current partner, Beau Thibodeaux.
Out of this cluster of genuinely traumatic shit, Olsen extracts astonishing amounts of emotional clarity on 'Big Time'. The album is ten songs long, and each track is concentrated with wisdom that’s perhaps come at too high of a cost. There’s tender odes such as ‘Right Now’, where Olsen plants her flag in the soil of a relationship, refusing to hide: ‘All those times are gone/I’m telling you right now’. Those lines aren’t delivered with anger, though; Olsen’s voice conveys a hand on the shoulder, a sweet reassurance.
There’s also more knotted portrayals of devastation on songs like ‘Ghost On’, which deals with Olsen moving on from a difficult lover: "Cause I don’t know if you can take such a good thing coming to you / And I don’t know if you can love someone stronger than what suits you…" ‘This is How it Works’, meanwhile, use woozy keys and slide guitars to accompany Olsen’s delicate vocals. "I'm so tired of telling you / It’s a hard time again", she sighs – "Tell me something good…" It’s a song that manages to match Olsen’s total exhaustion with the tempo without dragging or boring the listener.
In fact, the pacing on 'Big Time' is probably what’s musically most impressive about the record. The songs meander, but they don’t plod. At other points, such as on opener ‘All The Good Times’, Olsen arranges carefully constructed climaxes, lyrically ending with the parting words of a former lover that haunt her. She lets those words sink in with a denouement of saxophone exclamations that gently give way to a simple guitar and the echo of a rim shot.
The record ends on a somewhat conflicted note, pockmarked with the scars of death and heartbreak. Set to a skeletal instrumental of piano (and a hint of strings), ‘Chasing The Sun’ is a vintage Hollywood conclusion that masterfully juggles satisfaction and sadness using Olsen’s expressive voice. One moment, she quivers as she asks if her lover needs something to do; the next line, she bursts into a wail: ‘drop everything I’m doing/Nobody needs me here.’ Olsen speeds off into the sunset, leaving behind the turmoil she’s gone through in the process of making 'Big Time'.
After ten years since her first studio album, 'Half Way Home', Angel Olsen proves that she’s in no danger of stopping anytime soon. 'Big Time' is a focused record that contains stunning examples of vulnerability, almost too exposed to watch. Her ability to shed layers artistically and emotionally, over and over, leaves you excited to see where her next destination may be.
Words: Alex Rigotti
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