Whole New Mess
2020 – Rock / Folk
Whole New Mess, the raw material for the American singer’s 2019 album All Mirrors, sounds more intimate and personal, but also a bit dragged and boring.
Late last year, Angel Olsen reached her peak with her fourth studio album, All Mirror. Collaborating with loneliness, sadness and anguish, Olsen polished poetic lyrics that seemed to come straight out of a classic book of poetry and which came to life with the help of deep synthesizers and heavy strings, which created an unmistakable atmosphere that could only be created and interpreted by her. However, All Mirrors was not the primary result of the artistic projection of a relationship that did not work. Recorded a year earlier, in a church studio in Anacortes, Washington, Whole New Mess, the raw version of All Mirrors, abandons the baroque and exaggerated effect of the American singer’s fourth album and opts for simplicity, which provides an immeasurable intimacy for the songs, however, which also made the album dragged and monotone in some moments.
Unfortunately, Whole New Mess appears as her weakest project. Even though, according to her, Whole New Mess is much more intimate than All Mirrors — she said in an interview, “When I recorded All Mirrors, other people had their hands in the pot, which separated me from the songs. I could get into them in a distant way. On Whole New Mess I’m feeling every feeling that they evoke.” — it still sounds more dragged, boring and monotone in some moments. Instead of having the great synthesizers, strings and orchestras that gave the songs an extra charm on All, here we have only Olsen and her guitar, singing the same lyrics with the same voice. And this is where the problem of Whole New Mess is: we have all the grandeur of the voice and lyric of All Mirrors, however, the instrumental often seems lost and out of tune with the rest. Of course, this really gave an intimate effect to some songs, but in others, everything sounded dull, boring and unmatched. In other words, Whole New Mess is an album with incredible vocals and lyrics, however, with an instrumental that ends up becoming nothing impressive and tiring.
The best moments where this very unusual mix between the best quality of All Mirror and Olsen’s simple guitar work are in the songs that did not demand much before and that already sounded beautifully without much effort and elements. One of the best examples of this is “Too Easy (Bigger Than Us)” which, with the mix of Olsen’s well-worked and unique vocals and the very simplistic instrumental, sounded like an old romantic song that plays on the radio right in the background of a movie. Likewise, in “Waving, Smiling,” as she paints scenes of deep sadness — “I’ve made my bed/I’ve laid out all those tears/I’ve made my bed/Made up of all my fears” — and sings with an extremely sentimental voice next to a guitar that plays few chords, it gives us the feeling that this is a kind of timeless song that has been relevant for generations due to its lyric simplicity and memorable sound. Finally, the sweet and direct “What It Is (What It Is)” paints romantic passages about the good side of love in a really beautiful way. The most incredible thing is that all these songs feel like timeless songs that have been successful since the golden age of radio. Too bad these are the only ones.
In contrast, we have the songs that really got hurt at this junction. The best example of this is “Lark Song,” which although it doesn’t sound so strange or bad at the beginning, when we get to the chorus and the bridge, moments when Olsen’s voice gets more intense and also demands that the instrumental gets more intense, we have this strange mix between Angel’s loud and strong vocals and a very simple and lackluster guitar, resulting in something strangely empty. In the same hand, as much as “Tonight (Without You)” shows Olsen showing herself strong in relation to the breakup, the track ends up sounding too monotone and boring, especially if we put this next to “Tonight” from All Mirror, which has this incredible and beautiful orchestra. Lastly, the only interesting moment for “(Summer Song)” ends up when Olsen’s vocals lose all their effect and sound raw and naked with a sad silence.
The other songs, even though they are not the worst on the album, should not be placed in front of the versions of themselves that were featured on All Mirrors. Even though “(We Are All Mirrors)” doesn’t have the synthesizers of “All Mirrors,” it still sounds very entertaining. In the same way, even though “Impasse (Workin’ For The Name)” did not subsist “Impasse,” it ends up having the best progression of the album, evolving from something simple to something much more elaborate, even running around only a guitar. Lastly, as much as “Chance (Forever Love)” has the best feature of the album — sounds like a timeless old song — the fact that it has almost six minutes really makes it difficult for you to enjoy it to the fullest. These songs aren’t bad, but they can’t be interesting enough to replace their other versions.
In the end, you really end up being a little disappointed in Whole New Mess. While the album opener, “Whole New Mess,” really delivers something satisfying that really mixes the vocal aesthetic of All Mirrors with Olsen’s guitars, the rest of the album ends up being a little boring, with few moments of intense brilliance. Not even the tracks that really stand out, like “(New Love) Cassette,” which even monotone ends up being a golden moment of the album thanks to the Olsen’s vocals that has an incredible action here, end up making up for the boring moments, like “Lark Song” or “(Summer Song).” In a nutshell, Whole New Mess is an interesting project only for Olsen fans who will be able to get the most out of all her songs