Music Reviews
Big Time

Angel Olsen Big Time

(Jagjaguwar) Rating - 7/10

After everything that could go wrong does, there's finally that moment of respite that allows for gathering one's thoughts without feeling that overwhelmed. Big Time, Angel Olsen's sixth LP, comes from a place of cleansing and healing—on which she aims to feel a little bit better after experiencing the nagging burden of grief. Olsen doesn't turn away from the difficult situations that led her to this moment, gratified to have overcome them while embracing the inevitable growth that begins to take root.

One of the ideas that reverberated in Olsen's mind was the possibility of writing an album steeped in classic country and Americana. Even before she had released 2019's All Mirrors, which had more of a nocturnal chamber-folk feel, Olsen had written the spare country ballad All the Good Times. Her husky-voiced delivery on what’s now the leadoff track suits this new direction, evoking Sammi Smith’s outlaw spirit as a lingering snare tap locks into her confessional singing before a towering crescendo of strings hits. She’s dabbled with country music before, but once the fairly traditional title track follows, it's telling how enthralled she feels about completely getting lost in it.

And then there's Olsen’s choice of bringing in song whisperer Jonathan Wilson to the fold, who’s had great success producing for the likes of Father John Misty while keeping a low profile as a solo artist. Wilson helps provide that laidback California sound sheen to tracks like Going On, on which Olsen reflects on a past relationship over a lush doo-wop-inspired arrangement. The results throughout are often gorgeous, though a little clinical, like on This is How it Works. Olsen convincingly expresses a series of platitudes (“I'm barely hanging on/ Take it one day at a time”) with touches of pedal steel, but if only she'd reveal a little more.

Despite Wilson's contributions, who has the orchertral swells of Through the Fires down to a science, Olsen disappears into the role she inhabits with poise. As the album gradually shifts into calmer waters, Olsen conveys some of her most emotionally profound moments: “I moved in the the feeling I found/And the feeling I found showed me how I could lose.” It feels more like denounement than a dramatic spectacle for Olsen after holding nothing back on Right Now, a stunning highlight that finds her pleading for dignity and understanding over a dazzling musical performance that doesn't hold back either (“All those times are gone/I'm telling you right now.”)

While the closer Chasing the Sun seems inconclusive, Olsen bids adieu to her significant other with touchingly mundane details. It's the only way one could move on, and she decides to drive away with clarity rather than pain. Though Big Time has many splendid moments like these, some of the best in her career, it also continues Olsen’s open-ended search for a sound that suits her versatility as an artist. As far as transitional phases go, Olsen immerses herself into an intricately crafted and honest piece that doesn't resonate as distinctly her own.