For every popular female artist with the superstar caliber of a Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga or Katy Perry, there is also one who falls under the radar but still makes compelling music. Emerging singer-songwriter Angel Olsen certainly belongs to the latter category. Her indie folk sound is the antithesis of most pop music these days that relies on simplistic lyrics and technological gimmickry.
Olsen, who has been mentioned in The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune, hails from St. Louis, and is signed to the North Carolina record label Bathetic Records; she has previously toured with Bonnie "Prince" Billy. (Olsen will be performing a few dates in Los Angeles, St. Louis and Chicago starting in January). She made her recording debut last year with "Strange Cacti," a six-song album that sounds like a demo based on its austere sound and the way her vocals were recorded.
In contrast, her latest record, "Half Way Home," is somewhat brighter-sounding; and Olsen's vocal delivery -- a cross between Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith and Sharon Van Etten -- is more upfront this time around. But what hasn't changed with her new album is the sense of yearning that permeates throughout her conversational songwriting, as in the case of the spiritual and urgent "Can't Wait Until Tomorrow" -- from the lyrics and performance on that track, one can really identify the anticipation and anxiousness she feels.
The opening track, "Acrobat," sets the tone for the album with Olsen's soulful singing and the gentle yet resonant guitar playing - it's as dreamy as it is expressive. The longest song on the album, "Lonely Universe," which clocks over seven minutes, is appropriately titled, as this waltz-like ballad feels melancholic and hazy. There are also retro moments from the record, such as "The Waiting" and "Free," both of which recall '60s American pop music.
Aside from the introspective and personal lyrics, Olsen's music is accentuated by her amazing soulful and torch-like vocal performance in every track on "Half Way Home." In one moment, her voice soars on "Free," and yet conveys a quiet intimacy on the album's last track, the country-tinged ballad "Tiniest Seed."
"Half Way Home" isn't a hit record in a commercial sense -- Olsen's music is more likely to be heard on alternative or public radio, or spread through word of mouth among serious music fans. With patience and an open mind, one will find that Angel Olsen's latest record is a rewarding effort and an absorbing listen based solely on the singer's heartfelt lyrics and incredible vocal performance.