Themes of reflection and projection run throughout the lead single and title track of All Mirrors. They can just as easily be applied to the entirely of Angel Olsen’s fourth album, which is as unexpected as the artist herself. Despite her lyrical honesty she remains unknowable, evolving with each release and holding up a cracked lens to reveal a new side of her creativity.
The single initially suggests a continuation of ‘Intern’, the icy ’80s synth track that opened 2016’s My Woman. Yet while it retains languorous traces of Lana Del Rey it explodes into dramatic, ominous strings that are usually equated with a Bond theme.
The 14-piece orchestra is one of the defining features of the album, which was initially conceived as a dual record: one set of solo songs and another of full band versions. She eventually decided to proceed with just the latter but the sheer scale of ambition, and the complete integration of Jherek Bischoff’s arrangements, mean there are only a couple of tracks where the raw versions can be glimpsed: ‘Summer’, a dance worthy number that could be stripped back to country guitar, and ‘Spring’, which opens with the familiarity of Carole King before being hijacked by a slightly woozy synth.
The bridge between the two sounds is ‘Chance’; a last dance at the party that starts with just voice and piano before swelling into something akin to ‘Unchained Melody’. This is a good reference point throughout, with its cavernous drums, wall of sound instrumentation, and brooding romanticism all coming from Phil Spector’s school of production.
As with Olsen’s previous records, however, she takes these vintage influences and makes them her own. ‘Impasse’ is another key track: it opens with restrained voice and dark, low string swirls. As the percussion crashes and the strings build, however, the big sound pushes her impressive vibrato to new heights of emotive power.
Anyone looking for the grunge-pop of ‘Hi-Five’ will be disappointed, with the most immediately commercial tracks being vaguely unsatisfying. The Motown beat on ‘Too Easy’ and whooshing strings on ‘What Is It’, with its over familiar sentiment of ‘it’s never too late to admit that you just want to feel something again’ don’t fit into the moody flow of the album.
For the most part, though, this is her biggest sounding release to date and it could have been given the alternative title All Ambition.
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