Album Of The Week: Angel Olsen – Big Time

Angel Olsen returns with the most personal record of her career – weaving heartache into gold on an alt-country classic that feels all but unstoppable

The past is everywhere and nowhere on Big Time. Sometimes painfully personal, other times hiding behind the sound of her own inspirations, Angel Olsen turns one of the most difficult periods of her own life into a retrospective for a new era – leaning in closer to the microphone than ever before to give us one of the most essential albums of the year. 

A tough and beautiful listen, even if you don’t know the backstory, Big Time pulls the melodrama of 2019’s All Mirrors back to Olsen’s alt-country roots, giving us at least half an album full of honkytonk storytelling in the dark of a dive bar. A handful of opening breakup songs ring like a last-orders bell, with the ghosts of Emmylou Harris, Tammy Wynette and Olsen’s old mentor Bonnie Prince Billy slow-shuffling around the dancefloor for ‘All The Good Times’, ‘Big Time’ and ‘Dream Thing’. 

Angel Olsen - All The Good Times (Official Video)

“I had a dream last night, we were having a fight, it lasted twenty-five years,” she whispers, echoing through the walls of Laurel Canyon before Big Time slowly puts down the steel guitars and picks up the strings again. Slowly pulling away from lovesick bluegrass, the second half of the album sees Olsen start opening up and breaking down like never before. 

In 2021, Olsen came out on social media days before her dad died, losing her mum just weeks later. Cut off from her own roots so abruptly, everything on Big Time feels the sting of loss – with the incredible ‘Right Now’, ‘This Is How It Works’ (“I know you can’t talk long but I’m barely hanging on…”) and ‘Go Home’ as beautiful and hard to hear as anything she’s ever written (as hard, in fact, as anything on Nick Cave’s own recent confessionals about family loss).

“I lost sight, then I made up my mind, to learn to release the dreams that had died,” she sings on ‘Through The Fires’, emerging on the other side with two last ballads that sound like walking back out into the sun again. 

Angel Olsen - Big Time (Official Video)

Clearly, Big Time is the record Olsen needed to make – and it shows. Previously given to singing through characters and refusing to talk about her own life, even through her own lyrics, she lifts her guard because it feels like she hasn’t got a choice. 

Away from the big studio echo of All Mirrors, she steps in closer here to give us a set of songs that need to be played and heard. The dive bar setup of the opening tracks isn’t just a prop – it’s a small stage for shared emotion that feels like an important step backwards. That old Bond theme sweep isn’t gone completely (nor is the synth heavy indie influence of Sharon Van Etten, whose own new record meets Olsen’s sound in the middle), but here Olsen’s extraordinary voice finds itself again before re-joining the rest of the orchestra. 

If the last few albums are anything to go by, Big Time will be around for a while. All Mirrors spread itself in both directions to give us two full spin-offs before Olsen cleansed her pallet with an EP of 80s covers and finally began moving on. Already arriving with a short film stitching the first few music videos together, there’s every chance the new album will find itself reworked into a dozen different acoustic cuts and alt-takes. Then again, listening to Big Time, it’s hard to imagine Olsen has left anything behind at all.  

Big Time is out on Friday 3 June on Jagjaguuwar. Angel Olsen has announced two shows for October 2022 in London and Dublin. Find tickets here.