The widescreen, windswept cover of ‘Big Time’ has Angel Olsen looking off towards the light, somewhere in the far distance. Fitting imagery for a collection of songs which move away from who she once was and embrace new love and a new outlook, after a turbulent time in her personal life.
All The Good Times starts out sounding like ‘Sam Stone’ and then becomes something unexpectedly celebratory – she sings of embracing freedom, walking away from what you used to believe in. She considered giving this song to Sturgill Simpson, and you can feel his influence in the direct way she’s writing about her emotional vulnerability (btw I would really love to hear his version one day).
Title track ’Big Time’ is another gorgeous slice of Americana, she’s ‘living and loving’ in a way she hasn’t before. Her new relationship is a new way of understanding herself and that is reflected in the music too. Both these songs use the pedal steel to divine effect and her voice is softer, less abrasive at the edges like on some of her more gothic, indie rock past.
Dream Thing searches for answers to a relationship breakdown, tries to understand the bitterness that can destroy people. The piano is really beautiful on ‘Ghost On’ and both these songs have a dreamy, kind of Mazzy Star feel to them. The key moment when she sings ‘I don’t know if you can take such a good thing coming to you’, is gut-wrenching in its honesty.
All the Flowers is fragile, tender, stunning. The way the strings are arranged across this record is so effective, and equally as powerful as the pedal steel.
Right Now is her song about stepping out from the shadows into the light, how she ‘won’t live another lie’ – in her sexuality and life. This song would fit well on her old album ‘Burn Fire for No Witness’ which is my favourite of her previous releases.
As much as I love the more restrained sound of the first part of the record it is on Go Home, when her voice pushes to the edges when you hear what makes her so special and distinct as an artist – no one else sings like this.
Through the Fires goes on with this theme releasing ‘the dreams that had died’ and learning ‘to love without boundary and put it to use’. A cinematic sense of grandeur is created, with strings and orchestral sweeps.
Chasing the Sun starts on piano, intimate and quiet before the lush strings echo her attempt to drive away the blues. When she lets her voice go she sounds like she’s freeing herself again.
There is something otherworldly, dreamy and distant about Angel Olsen’s voice and arrangements which stop this album really fitting naturally into any of the roots genres. Unlike say the last Waxahatchee record, I don’t see Americana as a natural home for her sound, even though she has created something beautiful with those influences. Angel Olsen still sounds like she’s searching for something and you imagine her sound will shift again going forward, much like Sturgill himself.
Big Time is a really evocative and emotionally engaging album, devastating at times but always hopeful. Another intriguing entry into her impressive discography.