Surrender to Angel Olsen’s Sweet, Soulful Half Way Home

…when did the time become something that we feel?

angel_cover-PSFor the past week, I’ve been obsessed with Angel Olsen’s Half Way Home, a gorgeously rich and raw collection of somber and playful songs navigating the rich spaces between folk and old-school country rock. Part of me is frustrated that I didn’t discover this record sooner given that she is a local Chicago artist and I saw her record referenced on various occasions. Plus, having worked with such Indie heavyweights as Will Oldham and Emmett Kelly, I should have been paying closer attention. But, perhaps I wasn’t quite ready, in the proper mindset to actually listen. Olsen’s record is the sort of full-throttle, unabashedly emotionally naked type of music that requires the listener’s complete and total surrender. If you give in you will feel the brilliance and power of her music.

What do I aim to be? Fuck. I don’t really aim to be anything. I want to write things that I feel honest about. I’ve always felt that the more raw something is, even if it’s uncomfortable, the more it’s forcing you to think about something. I guess that’s my aim. – Angel Olsen (from Chicago Reader, Dec. 19, 2012)

With the onset of winter in the Midwest (after an unseasonably warm autumn), the days are shorter and the darkness sets in sooner, and with our diminished excursions outdoors, we tend to become more pensive and slow down our pace. Half Way Home is the perfect soundtrack to this more reflective sort of mindset. Olsen voice and lyrics beckon us to slow down and take a careful look at where we are, perhaps even evaluate our lives. By way of comparison her work reminds me at times of early Cat Power (the stripped-down, bare production), Sharon Van Etten & (solo) Jenny Lewis (the emotional intensity and pace of the songs), and Marissa Nadler, Lisa Hannigan, & Hope Sandoval (in terms of how she uses her voice). For those familiar with those artists, you will imagine this to be a rather dour and, perhaps, depressing set of songs.  Well there is a fair dose of slightly bluer hues on this record, but despite the very intimate nature of the songs, there is definitely moments of utter beauty and whimsy like on the 60s Roy Orbison tinged “The Waiting” and “Free” – two songs which just make me want to dance like a teenager under a full moon light. “The Waiting” is a particularly gorgeous tune in the vein of a Patsy Cline torch song (think “Walkin’ After Midnight) with the brilliantly poignant closing refrain: “sometimes I need you to be the one to call”. (Who hasn’t been there?) Or, you can wash yourself in the sweet and bitter hopelessness of the dreamy and breathy outlaw ballad “Miranda”. But, the true power and brilliance of Angel Olsen’s music is in the mix between her country-style directness and the intoxicating quality of her vocals. Doubt me? Then listen below to “Tiniest Seed” and try not to lose your breath.

I’m still reeling from that track even after hearing it countless times this week.  Now do yourself a favor and listen to this genius record: Angel Olsen’s Half Way Home.

(I know that after a week’s worth of listening, I’d easily slot it into my top tier records of 2012 and biggest oversight.)

Angel Olsen is playing the Hideout on February 8th (a Friday).  Join me and get tickets here.


p.s. Also, check out this great interview about her work from which I snipped the above quote that I really adore.


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