Angel Olsen’s fourth and latest album, All Mirrors, takes the next step in her lightning-quick evolution as a definitive American artist. All Mirrors is very much a “reaction to rapid success” album, which is understandable as Olsen’s previous release in 2016, My Woman, was the most praised of her career to that point. All Mirrors is also an album about recovering yourself from devastation, devastation which may have happened because of said rapid success. It’s a potent portrait of a period in Olsen’s life, and it is crafted with precise detail and off-kilter delivery that makes each song uniquely one belonging to Angel Olsen.
All Mirrors takes the “synth album” label of My Woman and takes it a step further as a “synth and string album.” If that combination sounds cacophonous and gimmicky, you can let go of your fears because the combination sounds wonderfully natural here. Olsen’s collaborators here include John Congleton, mega-producer, composer Ben Babbitt, and multi-instrumentalist Jherek Bischoff among many others. Each contributor’s experience and dedication to the possibilities of modern music lets each song become its own uniquely shaped gem.
The album begins slowly, with the opening strains of “Lark” taking their time rolling in. You may even pause to wonder if the album is actually playing. But suddenly, it’s there, creeping in. This subtle approach is evident throughout the album, as songs begin with Olsen’s voice and eventually succumb to a crescendo of cathartic instrumentation. “Lark” follows that pattern, with an added touch of an ever-present drumbeat throughout that evokes the feeling of having your heart in your throat during a confrontation of the kind Olsen sings about.
“All Mirrors” lets the synth-side of this album’s equation shine through, evoking a particularly O.M.D.-esque spirit in its bittersweet delivery. All Mirrors is full of what you want to find in an Olsen album, particularly lyrical phrases that pack an emotional punch and lyrical sparseness in general. The chorus of dreamy, dub-y “New Love Cassette” is simply “gonna love you/true you” and “love free/take me.” The purposeful “Tonight” features a delicately and simply stated declaration by Olsen that “I like the air that I breathe/I like the thoughts that I think/I like the life that I lead” with the important addendum: “without you.”
“Tonight” is one track in particular which demonstrates what All Mirrors does so well throughout. Olsen is reckoning with growing older, with her own wants and desires, with her “baggage,” and she is deciding the kind of life she wants to live for herself now in the present, as it is already happening. Those kinds of personal revelations go excellently with the cinematic level of the orchestral elements to each song. “Tonight,” for one, builds to such a beautiful climax that it says much more about Olsen’s confidence in her declarations than any words could have.
The subject matter of this album is rich and endlessly relatable, which makes for an involving listen. “What It Is” lays out Olsen’s confrontation of the fact that sometimes you say you’re in love with someone or act the part of a lover because you just want to fill a void in your life. She wonders how you can know the love is genuine, and not from a place of need. In the quiet center of the album, “Impasse,” Olsen simmers and ruminates on the habit of people assuming certain rosy things about her life or experience simply because of any success she has attained. “Tonight” and “Spring” discuss unavoidable elements of maturing: learning to embrace your own company, and seeing your wild friends evolve into parents and homeowners, respectively. Refreshingly, the subject of “Tonight” is not treated as a sad surrender to loneliness (as some might regretfully see it), and “Spring” does not see the evolution out of boldfaced punk badassery as something to be embarrassed of.
“Summer” and “Endgame” offer a late-album emotional weight, with a two-part story of platonic disappointment. “Summer,” deceptively upbeat with a winsome Western flair, describes Olsen’s lowest point, which happened to be during the summer. In one of the most cutting lines of the album, Olsen sings about “all those people I thought knew me well/after all that time, they couldn’t tell/I lost my soul, was just a shell/there was nothing left that I could lose.” In the following track, “Endgame,” Olsen sings over a smoky jazz rhythm to a friend who simply wasn’t there in the way she needed (“I needed more than love from you”), and who hasn’t been “there” for a long time.
Perhaps the brightest moment of the album comes at the very end. “Chance” is a perfect album closer, a throwback torch song with a striking melodic similarity to “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” that coheres every lesson Olsen has learned through All Mirrors into one simple statement of purpose. Olsen sings another casually perfect refrain (“I don’t want it all/I’ve had enough”) over especially lush instrumentation that gets bigger by the minute. She addresses a lover, proposing that “if we got to know each other/how rare is that?” She ends with “it’s hard to say forever love/forever’s just so far/why don’t you say you’re with me now?” The lovely, streamlined and confident All Mirrors is a personal journey made universal, and an album about the past that realizes the present is what’s most important.