“Big.” At just three letters, it’s actually a tiny word. But what does it mean? “Big” can be quite literal, used to describe the physical size of a large object. It can be used to describe success. This artist or that band has “made it big,” people will say. Somewhere in between those two uses, there’s another way to use “big.” It describes something that, while it doesn’t have a physical presence, feels like it can stretch out forever. It’s not necessarily the same as “complex,” as big things can be simple and complex things can be small.
“Big” is about depth and vision. When an album is big, you can feel every thought, every feeling, and every minute of work that went into it. A big album can’t help but radiate purpose and expression. It comes as no surprise then that songwriter Angel Olsen has made a big album. Long one of the most thoughtful, intelligent artists of the 2010s, Olsen put her mind and talent hard to work on new album All Mirrors, and the result is an album that’s going to stay with you.
In a statement that went out with All Mirrors, Olsen explained this record came together piece by piece, a long process of building and collaboration. The result of this is an album that’s rooted in the musical expertise she already possesses, but bolstered by those she worked with, producers John Congleton and Ben Babbitt especially. Single “Lark” opens the album, and exemplifies this idea. Olsen and her guitar are still there, pinning everything together with the interesting progressions, hooks, and musical ideas we know her for. But now there’s so much more. She’s diving into synths more than ever, not in any way that makes her an electro-pop artist, but just enough to add a new textural layer to her work. And the orchestral additions throughout the album are incredible, adding a grandiose sense of scale to the project. This was clearly a priority for All Mirrors, as “Lark” alone has eleven different string players credited.
The willingness to implement new sounds has always been what makes Olsen excel, and she’s leaning into it more than ever on All Mirrors. “New Love Cassette” brings in multiple thick, synthy basses to create a sound you can practically reach out and touch, and ends with a big orchestral flourish. “What It Is” explores the country western gallop and steadiness Olsen has been fond of dipping her toes into in the past, only with a frantic collection of violins added over top of it. “Tonight” is a straight ballad from decades gone by, delivered earnestly and touchingly. Olsen’s voice stretches, bends, and invokes all of these styles with the same ease that the music switches, ensuring every track still fits on All Mirrors. This mostly works, as I do have a quibble with the pace of the album. The last four songs in particular, while great on their own, begin to drag as they run together. “Endgame” contains such a climactic sound in particular that when the album continues for one more song with “Chance,” it’s almost hard to focus on it after what just came before it. Still, each song fits stylistically no mater how Olsen shifts and shapes them. With all of these new ideas and large ensembles of musicians involved, it’s an expansive album just from a musical standpoint.
“Big” isn’t just about sound, though. It’s about feeling. And Olsen has poured all of herself into All Mirrors. The album is a meditation on love and forgiveness, including figuring out who around us deserves those things. “You say you love every single part; What about my dreams? What about the heart?” she sings on “Lark.” But as the titular track tells us, it’s about taking parts of ourselves and extending that forgiveness and love to them, as well. This is not an easy thing to do, as she explains in “What It Is.” “It’s never easy to admit that maybe you just wanted it just to feel something again. You just wanted to forget that your heart was full of shit,” she muses. This discovery is a through-line of All Mirrors, culminating in “Endgame” and “Chance” as she comes to terms with those she’s given love to before and how she has treated herself. Her emotional journey doesn’t end with a bow, because no journey like that ever does, but there is a sense of newfound realization and growth at the end. It’s the journey that makes All Mirrors big. From her incredible writing to all of the energy she throws into her performance, the listener feels every single thing Olsen feels. I feel it down to my core when I put the album on. That power is not easy to achieve, but Olsen does it here.
Angel Olsen knows how to make a big album. Every album she’s made to date has been big in its own way. All Mirrors is a culmination of that, an album from an artist who is totally unafraid to put every ounce of her essence into every single second of music. Combine that with a musical mind as shrewd and sharp as Olsen’s, and you have something that sticks with you. You have All Mirrors. You have a big album.