Ladies and gentlemen, our postmodern, alternative, synth-wave queen has arrived. With All Mirrors, Angel Olsen has ethereally ascended into the symphonic synth-wave space, delivering her boldest record yet and launching herself into major stardom.
An influential player in the Indie scene for many years, Olsen, has now solidified her place among major icons of the music industry. A sweeping orchestral synth masterpiece, All Mirrors is “a record about facing yourself and learning to forgive what you see. It is about losing empathy, trust [and] love for destructive people” said Olsen herself in the accompanying album statement. This record is about healing and finding strength in autonomy. It is about learning to conserve your love for the right people while cutting out toxicity.
We've come to know Olsen through her iconic crooning and stripped-down folk songs, starting with her features on Miracle of Love: A Bathetic Records Compilation and loving her more on the 2013 collaborative record, Kinsella Sings the Songs of Marvin Tate by Leroy Bach Featuring Angel Olsen. In creation of her debut EP Strange Cacti and following albums, Burn your Fire for No Witness and Half Way Home showed us her strength as a singer/songwriter and capacity for innovation in the folk hemisphere with an ethereal spin. Olsen did so with lyrics in “Some Things Cosmic” off of Strange Cacti:
“I felt my soul/ Rise up from my body/ When I look into your blue eyes /If cosmic force is real at all/ It's come between you and I I want to be naked/ I don't mean my body/ I don't need my body/ I'm floating away”
Such lyrics made her debut as a vulnerable poet. Olsen's lyrical and musical vulnerability makes her body of work relatable and accessible. Her 2016 record, My Woman began her transition into folk rock-synth experimentation. My Woman thematically brings to light Olsen's toil with what it means to be a woman and matters of the heart which she thematically expands upon in All Mirrors. Such themes surface in the lyrics of “Woman” on My Woman:
“I dare you to understand what makes me a woman.”
The 2017 compilation of B-sides and demos, Phases, established Olsen's clear gift for simplicity when playing stripped-down raw folk-rock. Olsen's vulnerability as a songwriter has always come to her like air, but in All Mirrors, it really shines through, as shown in "Lark":
“You say you love every single part/ What about my dreams?/ What about the heart?/ Trouble from the start Trouble with the heart/ Ah, trouble with the heart”
All Mirror's lyrics propel Olsen into a literary analysis level, entering the realm of confessional poetry and taking her place among acclaimed lyricists and poets. On All Mirrors, Olsen's combination of grandiose Romantic Era orchestral music and layered synth tracks combined with hypnotic, poetic verses makes for a masterpiece of our era.
Olsen begins the album with her two singles, “Lark” and “All Mirrors.” In comparison to the rest of the album, these are two of her more subdued songs. These two songs ease us into the journey ahead. “Lark” introduces string arrangements that are featured throughout the album, drawing us into the dream Olsen constructs. She repeats “dream on” while violins play upward and downward glissandos, gliding us through. “All Mirrors” introduces us to the thematic elements of the album of self-forgiveness with the lyrics, “all mirrors, all erasin.”
Next comes the song, “Too Easy” which fully transitions us into the synth alternative category. The song is reminiscent of 80’s singer Julee Cruise, who sang the dreamy songs on Twin Peaks as “The Roadhouse Singer” in David Lynch’s iconic television series. “Too Easy” also brings to mind elements of The Cure, Tame Impala, and Beach House with its synth scape, shoegaze-y nature. This is the song where the dream journey of the album begins.
The following song, “New Love Cassette” takes us even deeper into the dream realm and thematic sphere of self-love and forgiveness. In this song, “Gonna be your breath when you're out of life,” Olsen's star quality poetic prowess and immense talent are clear. “Spring” opens with a dilapidated piano verse and slowly eases back into alternative synth production. “Spring” builds on elements seen in Mac DeMarco’s 2015 album Another One and then transitions into Kurt Vile-esqe-Bottle it in- jam band vibes.
“What it is” begins as a march and then becomes a rich orchestral score. Olsen's entrancing singing over the Romantic era orchestration also emulates the 1940’s and 1950’s sweeping love standard, melodramatic symphonies. One album that comes to mind is Moonlight Becomes You: Paul Weston and his Music from Hollywood.
The previous songs could not prepare us for the elevation of the soundscape that is to come. Next on the record is “Impasse.” With “Impasse” the listener is taken to the next leg of the journey. Act I of the album has concluded and this is the next major plot point. “Impasse” begins with orchestral dissonance in the string section caused by clashing harmonic second and seventh intervals played in different octaves. This collision of sound somehow finds a synergy, becoming spooky and melodic. The song is incredibly thick in texture and depth, building and building, beginning our ascent to the climax of the album. “Impasse” ends on a decrescendo to a pianissimo, barely audible. A moment of silence before the climax that is to come next.
With “Tonight” the listener has reached the peak of this musical journey. It is a waltz that takes us in its arms and leads us in dance. “Tonight” is cinematic and sweeping, bringing to mind the classic Postmodern scores of John Williams and the innovative symphonic synth-wave of Japanese synth composer Isao Tomita. With “Tonight” we reach the album's peak.
“Endgame” is the aftermath. The ease of sledding down a hill, beginning our movement out of the dreamscape. “Endgame” floats like a sailboat peeling through water and furthers the 50’s, Frank Sinatra-esqe, love standard pastiche that surfaced earlier in the album. The final track on the record is “Chance.” This is our lullaby, our comfort after the storm and neo-goth-noir chaos of the climax. This is mother Angel cradling us in her arms and rocking us to sleep as the strings arpeggio up and down octaves. We’ve made it through the hardest part of the journey and this is our sweet release. “Chance” sounds of resilience and strength. We’ve made it to the end and to the bliss that lies ahead by hanging on for one more day.
“Drama is something that surrounds my world and always has. I’m at least happy that I've learned to write it down” concludes Olsen's in her album statement.
A conglomeration of cultures and styles, Olsen is sonically what Lana Del Rey is visually and aesthetically. With Norman Fucking Rockwell, Del Rey jumped from pop star to American bard and Olsen takes her place right next to her. All Mirrors is a symphonic synth-wave masterpiece with vulnerability and innovation like few other artists of this time. The cultural trend of the era we live in is to pastiche the past. The symphonic synth-wave nature of All Mirrors creates a soundscape and style independent of the past that points to the future of alternative music. Weyes Blood’s Titanic Rising is an example of another artist that recently moved from freak-folk to the symphonic synth-wave space.
All Mirrors empowers strength in heartbreak. Olsen is not just another folk-singer-turned-pop-icon. She is an impactful artist who wears her heart on her sleeve: someone who will leave a legacy. All Mirrors is Angel Olsen’s mark on music history.
Angel Olsen goes on tour later this October, check out the dates below and get your tickets here:
Angel Olsen Tour Dates: Mon. Oct. 28 - Saxapahaw, NC @ Haw River Ballroom & Wed. Oct. 30 - Asbury Park, NJ @ Asbury Lanes * Thu. Oct. 31 - Philadelphia, PA @ Franklin Music Hall * Fri. Nov. 1 - Washington, DC @ Lincoln Theatre * Mon. Nov. 4 - Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse * Tue. Nov. 5 - New Orleans, LA @ Civic Theatre * Thu. Nov. 7 - Austin, TX @ Stubb’s (Levitation) * Fri. Nov. 8 - Dallas, TX @ Granada Theater * Sat. Nov. 9 - Oklahoma City, OK @ The Criterion * Sun. Nov. 10 - Lawrence, KS @ The Granada * Tue. Nov. 12 - Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue * Wed. Nov. 13 - Madison, WI @ The Sylvee * Thu. Nov. 14 - Chicago, IL @ The Riviera Theatre * Fri. Nov. 15 - Detroit, MI @ Royal Oak Music Theatre * Sat. Nov. 16 - Toronto, ON @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre * Mon. Nov. 18 - Montreal, QC @ mTelus * Tue. Nov. 19 - Boston, MA @ Royale * Thu. Nov. 21 - Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Steel Fri. Nov. 22 - Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Steel * Sat. Nov. 23 - Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Steel ^ Mon. Dec. 2 - Phoenix, AZ @ The Van Buren * Tue. Dec. 3 - San Diego, CA @ The Observatory North Park * Thu. Dec. 5 - Los Angeles, CA @ Palace Theater * Fri. Dec. 6 - Los Angeles, CA @ Palace Theater # Sat. Dec. 7 - Oakland, CA @ Fox Theater * Mon. Dec. 9 - Portland, OR @ Roseland * Tue. Dec. 10 - Vancouver, BC @ The Orpheum Theatre * Wed. Dec. 11 - Seattle, WA @ Moore Theatre * Fri. Dec. 13 - Salt Lake City, UT @ The Depot * Sat. Dec. 14 - Denver, CO @ The Gothic Theatre * Sun. Dec. 15 - Denver, CO @ The Gothic Theatre * * = w/ Vagabon ^ = w/ Madi Diaz & = w/ Lean Year
Marina Pipher is a Los Angeles based filmmaker, musician and writer studying Film Production at The University of Southern California