Contrary to its name, Angel Olsen’s fifth studio album Whole New Mess isn’t exactly new. Almost all of the tracks come from the singer-songwriter’s preceding album, All Mirrors, released last year and marked by its orchestral instrumentation. Now, Olsen takes tracks which once felt meticulously produced and lessens the distance between listeners and her heartbreak, reducing the songs to just her and a guitar. She told Pitchfork that she wanted to record while she was still processing, ‘These are the personal takes, encapsulated in a moment,’ and you can hear it. While before, the emotional climaxes of songs such as ‘All Mirrors’ took the form of dramatic swells in orchestration (almost film-score-esque), the emotion now stems from Olsen’s intimate performance. ‘(We Are All Mirrors),’ the stripped-down version, allows the strains in her voice to shine through for a more vulnerable display of her heart ache. It’s likely no coincidence that ‘Spring’ is one of just two tracks not reprised from All Mirrors, a song Olsen told Apple Music was ‘one of the happiest on the record.’
In an interview with the Evening Standard, Olsen suggests that on All Mirrors she was separated from the songs because ‘other people had their hands in the pot,’ but that ‘On Whole New Mess, I’m feeling every feeling that they evoke.’ There are no external forces imposing on her new record, no collaboration, no elaborate production; it’s just Olsen, her guitar, and her pain. Whole New Mess is a mirror itself to its predecessor – a little messier, not quite as polished or restrained, but it makes you feel her heartbreak all the more for it.
Header image: Cameron McCool