Angel Olsen bares all in “Big Time”

Darren Puccala, Life and Arts General Reporter

Unapologetic in her approach to love and grief, singer-songwriter Angel Olsen dives into a country sound, utilizing heart-wrenching storytelling to open herself up on Big Time. The 10-track album released on June 3 showcases a complex understanding of a heart-wrenching time in the 35-year-old songwriter’s life. The project fully embraces the wide range of emotions that comes with falling in and out of love, echoing the overwhelming feeling of grief Olsen experienced during the making of this album. 

A monumental series of events in Olsen’s life shaped Big Time, including the singer’s decision to come out as queer to her parents by introducing a new partner. Since that time, the two have separated, and Olsen experienced the shocking death of both her parents in a two-month span. In a time of great sorrow, Olsen’s embrace of country influence strips her music to the bare necessities with a focus on the raw emotion that pours through every song. 

Olsen’s opening and most popular track — “All The Good Times” — provides a tone-setter for an album that pays major respect to the classics of country. The song, like most tracks in the collection, rides along through a very well-orchestrated drum beat that elevates the stellar use of tenor and alto saxophones. The dramatic change in tempo from the drum line combined with all other instruments matches Olsen’s attitude of acceptance for her mistakes and efforts that led her to where she is now, and where the album will take her listeners. 

Big Time flourishes with consistent songs that further the story of Olsen’s self-realization and pursuit of acceptance. “Ghost On” chronicles a brutal acknowledgment of not being fit for a loved one. The track’s chorus drives home that defeated acceptance; “And I can’t fit into the past that you’re used to / I refuse to, I don’t know if you can take such a good thing coming to you” 

Despite sonic simplicity, the album’s next track, “All The Flowers,” delivers the biggest takeaway of the collection — Olsen’s desire to be loved and feel alive. The song cuts to the emotional core of need after Olsen’s loss of both a relationship and her parents, creating an immediate connection with the listener where the artist’s sorrow manifests. “All The Flowers” strips away the more well-known elements of a typical country song, embracing a more romantic, classical soundscape without losing any power. 

For the end of Big Time, Olsen astonishingly creates two of the best closing tracks of the year, placing them right next to each other as the hardest hitting one-two punch on the project. “Through the Fires” and “Chasing the Sun” depict the same feeling of moving on from the pain that torments you but with an entirely different context driving them along. “Through the Fire” feels like an entire rebirth after the endless pain Olsen experienced, while the closing track reads like a note left on a night table, spilling all the love remaining at the end of a relationship. The two tracks both feel like dramatic closers to two different life-changing stories that tragically happened all at the same time for Olsen. 

Angel Olsen’s Big Time is a beautiful piece of art that holds no punches, baring it  all as listeners walk through the hardest time in the singer’s life. The country twang facilitates Olsen’s need to sit down and pour her emotions out, and the punch of a country guitar and melancholy piano creates the soundtrack to some of the most devastating songs Olsen has ever created. 

5 ugly cries out of 5