Album Review: "Phases" by Angel Olsen

A year after her breathtaking album My Woman, North-Carolina based singer-songwriter Angel Olsen releases her rarities album Phases. This treat gives listeners insight into how Olsen’s diverse genre palette came to be, reflecting all the different directions her musical abilities can take—from quiet lo-fi folk to sprawling psych-rock.

Phases is a multifarious album, B-sides that didn’t fit the flow of pop-oriented My Woman or the alt-rock Burn Your Fire for No Witness: raw and heartfelt demos of love and loss, and covers by artists that have influenced her musical and writing process.

Put together non-chronologically, this album really allows listeners to hear the songs that have shaped Olsen into the musician she is today. The two opening tracks have the highest production value and are the two most complex and experimental of the album, both cut from My Woman. Olsen’s vocals in “Fly On Your Wall” mirrors Leonard Cohen’s lyrical lingering and Roy Orbison’s dreamy 60s pop crooning. Ambience fills the backdrop of this track towards the end, hinting at the similar soundscapes in My Woman. The second track, “Special”, is a mellow and hypnotic psych-rock track detailing the feelings that come when you feel a partner is losing interest. Though produced well, there is roughness in sound that contrasts the clean-cut recordings in My Woman. The echoing vocals, grainy guitars and leading baseline slowly builds a crashing wall of sound.

Olsen uses simple four-chord guitar progressions with a phaser in the lo-fi breakup song “Only With You”. “Sweet Dreams”, on the other hand, is a moody lo-fi track entering garage rock territory, Olsen’s vocals similar to the 13th Floor ElevatorsRoky Erickson. She also covers “For You” by Erickson, gently and intimately with only an acoustic guitar. Though diverse in its tracklist, as B-sides tend to be, this rarities album is a treat for fans of her previous two hit records, and also works as a beginner's gateway to what Olsen has to offer.