Angel Olsen has a ridiculous voice—in the best way possible. Sometimes it flutters with the delicacy of Vashti Bunyan, albeit with a less wispy texture, more tethered to Earth; other times it warbles, Edith Piaf–style, teeming with raw emotion. Many first heard her clarion yodels when she sang in the touring band of Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Others came to Olsen’s music via her humdinger of a debut cassette, Strange Cacti, recorded in a kitchen.
Her first full-length, Half Way Home, kicks off the blanket of reverb and gets out of the domestic setting, but also manages to maintain the lovely intimacy of Cacti. “People are so easily charmed by lo-fi recordings,” she said in a recent interview with Chart Attack. “I understand…. But I wanted to step out of that. I needed to challenge myself.” While the LP features her signature, mournful folk ballads, theatrically but earnestly delivered (“I thought this time last year I’d be dead,” she sings on “You Are Song”), Half Way Home introduces added pep in the form of light percussion and guitar accompaniment by fellow Bonnie “Prince” Billy collaborator Emmett Kelly, of the Cairo Gang.
The instruments are most involved, though still spare, on the country-inflected track “Lonely Universe,” hinting at what Olsen’s folk melodies might sound like with a full band behind her. The best part of hearing her live? Her voice sounds just as ridic as her recordings, if not more so.