Angel Olsen doubles down on her sonic rebrand with new EP Aisles. She began to shift from her classic country-infused acoustic songwriting towards a more synth-based sound with 2019’s All Mirrors, less punk rock Loretta Lynn and more post-Psychopop Japanese Breakfast. While she revisited her Americana roots on her collaboration with Sharon Van Etten, “Like I Used To,” she dives even further into the other end with this latest offering. Sporting Bowie-esque make-up on the album art, she renders five classic ‘80s pop tracks — “Gloria” by Laura Branigan, “Eyes Without a Face” by Billy Idol, “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats, “If You Leave” by O.M.D. and “Forever Young” by Alphaville” — in a style all her own.
The trials of 2020 bore the idea, when she became closer with local Asheville engineer and producer Adam McDaniel and his wife Emily. “I wanted to record ‘80s songs that I’d overheard walking the aisles at the grocery store,” she explained in a press statement. “I needed to laugh and have fun and be a little less serious about the recording process in general. I thought about completely changing some of the songs and turning them inside out.”
“I know it’s not really in my history to do something unintentional or just for the hell of it but my connection to these songs is pretty straightforward,” she continues. “I just wanted to have a little fun and be a little more spontaneous, and I needed to remember that I could!”
That these songs are examples of Olsen just wanting to have a little fun speaks to her caliber as an artist. You wouldn’t know it was just a little fun. Her general soulfulness infuses the tracks with new life, a melancholic hopefulness that speaks to the uncertainty we must contend with everyday in this new normal. “Safety Dance” transforms from the silly fodder you might hear as the soundtrack for a television commercial to a somehow sexy, expansive journey to another dimension. She found that track particularly astute of our present moment, saying: “I felt that it could be reinterpreted to be about this time of quarantine and the fear of being around anyone or having too much fun. It made me wonder, is it safe to laugh or dance or be free of it all for just a moment?”
While many of us came to Angel Olsen fandom for her soul-crushing guitar-driven numbers, I’m glad to grow acquainted with this new phase of her artistry. Having publicly come out on Instagram in April, it would seem that just as she is maturing into her fullest self as a grown woman, so is she maturing into her fullest self as a songwriter, defying our expectations and exploring her sonic interests on her own terms.