Half Way Home
It’s usually pretty unlikely that video of a live show catches my eye online, as most video footage fails to capture the fullness of the live experience. But Angel Olsen has proved one of the exceptions, the St. Louis born but Chicago-based singer/songwriter has a voice and the songwriting chops to knock you out, even through the doldrums of Youtube. Not only that, but being associated with folk troubadour Will Oldham (aka Bonnie Prince Billy) and sounding a bit like Joanna Newsom, Olsen sounds like she was pretty much made to make fellow LxLer Austin cry tears of joy. I went back this weekend to check out her 2012 sophomore album Half Way Home, and find it, and her, to be a clear, simple beautiful voice amidst a sea of gimmicks and irony that fill the current music scene.
Angel Olsen gently strums onto the scene with “Acrobat”, a song that has Olsen echoing the ghosts of Jeff Buckley and Roy Orbison. Olsen has a certain level of melodrama in her voice, but it isn’t put on or over-the-top: it comes off as genuine and central to her narrative. “The Waiting” picks up the energy with a warm sunny 50’s style pop song, like Zooey Deschanel’s She & Him with much more twists and turns and a lot less adorkability. “Safe in the Womb” is life-affirming in the same vein of fellow female songstress Sharon Van Etten’s work, but with a little extra dose of yodel.
The production on Half Way Home is incredibly intimate, with Olsen sounding like she is playing four feet away, with the rhythm reliably underpinning her voice and the guitar and other accompaniment working as sharp dynamics with her voice. A great example is “Lonely Universe” where a bright yet distorted 70’s style guitar line sings the blues before Olsen has a chance to herself, then the guitar merely dissipates in the mix of Olsen’s “lonely universe.”
An album like Half Way Home that focuses so centrally on one musical element (Olsen’s voice) can often grow tired in the second act, but Olsen wisely saved her best songs for last. “You Are Song” is simple but affecting, a gentle waltz full of beautiful lines that is reaching out in the dark during the first verse, but connects and finds the light in the second. “The Sky Opened Up” contains Olsen’s most haunting and simply timeless melody, with Olsen’s voice floating on another plane, full of the mystery and romanticism that filled Roy Orbison’s finest work. “Tiniest Seed” closes things up yet Olsen’s voice remains planted in your head: a testament to the power of the human voice used just right. On “Tiniest Seed” evokes confidence and brings comfort to the listeners, in the same vein Joni Mitchell’s Blue brings peace in the valley.
Half Way Home is a sign of good things to come, a singer who will hopefully continue to branch out and grow with experience and confidence.
Can’t Miss: “The Sky Opened Up”, ‘Tiniest Seed”, “The Waiting”, “Lonely Universe”
Can’t Hit: none