Review : Angel Olsen - Half Way Home
PitchforkOn the last day of November 2010, Bonnie "Prince" Billy played an unannounced, mystifying show with "the Babblers" as his backing band-- made no less odd by the fact that the band was seemingly wearing fleece pajamas. Website Chattarati reported that, among songs that sounded more traditionally Oldham-like, there was also "charged-up punk that featured Angela Babbler screaming down the throats of the front row." It turned out that Angela Babbler, whose voice was described as "blood-curdling" by another site, was actually the Missouri-born, Chicago-based singer Angel Olsen, and that the "charged-up punk" was a cover of Kevin Coyne and Dagmar Krause's "Sweetheart", from their 1979 album Babble-- an old favorite of Oldham's.
Since then, Olsen has formed part of the Cairo Gang that performed on Bonnie "Prince" Billy's recent records, and she's toured with them too-- though her extraordinary voice has set her miles above the backing-band parapet. Halfway through Wolfroy Goes to Town's "Time to be Clear", she breaks through the welcoming lull with a wordless melody as casual but striking as a ditty that Edith Piaf might have hummed whilst hanging out the washing. Trade "blood-curdling" for "blood-chilling"-- she doesn't sound of this world. "When something like that happens, I don't know how to feel," Oldham said of Olsen's improvised warble, in a Pitchfork interview. "It's almost like I get hollowed out and then filled, but I don't know what it's with. It's a mixture of apprehension and satisfaction at the same time."
Olsen's voice is possessed of an intensely dramatic range; one minute she's barely singing-- more a downcast, near-spoken tumble of words-- but the next, she's a tragic heroine of the Weimar cabaret, tremendously poised but letting emotion rag her throat as if a freight train were passing through. Hers is not a voice made for modern laptop speakers. Its chalky squeak will earn lazy comparisons to Joanna Newsom; really, her palette is a mixture of the great, lost singer Connie Converse, Jason Molina's old-timey drama, Bill Callahan's terrific and unsettling ability to shift between dourness and comfort, and Nina Nastasia's graceful lope. Olsen's voice is extraordinary and unequivocal, which makes the way she uses it to sing of the most profound doubts on the follow-up to 2010's initially cassette-only Strange Cacti even more affecting....full text
RecorddeptAfter a highly-acclaimed debut EP, Strange Cacti, Angel Olsen’s debut full-length Half Way Home is easily one of my most anticipated releases of the year. Half Way Home expands upon the EP’s lo-fi old timey sounds with a more diverse palette. Having toured recently with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – whose 2012 Wolfroy Goes to Town showcases his collaborative relationship with Olsen – it seems as if Olsen continues to hone and share her own voice, which is piercingly clear and filled with emotional gravitas. Olsen is joined by Emmett Kelly (Cairo Gang) who plays stunning supporting instrumentation, but the spotlight is all Olsen’s. Another stunning outing for Olsen, a few standouts include: “The Waiting”, “Lonely Universe”, “Always Half Strange” and “Tiniest Seed.” – Written by JFelton...full text
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