Review: Angel Olsen beams angelic prose into the cosmos with ‘Cosmic Stream 3’

Review: Angel Olsen beams angelic prose into the cosmos with ‘Cosmic Stream 3’

Image by Kylie Coutts
Words By Jasmine Alavuk

Angel Olsen’s recent livestream show took place in the leafy surrounds of the Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre.

A single, handheld camera pans the fading light and greenery of Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre – a bare bones stage nestled in the foliage of Asheville, North Carolina.

The camera zooms in close to Angel Olsen, who stands centre stage with an electric guitar and a microphone, strumming the opening chords of ‘Whole New Mess’, the title track of her just-released new album of the same name.

With live performances taking a prolonged pause from crowds and venues, Olsen’s livestream show, Cosmic Stream 3, was an ode to the stripped back elements of nature and music.

Olsen’s Cosmic Streams happen in handpicked venues around Asheville, the singer’s hometown. Filmed by longtime video collaborator, Ashley Connor, each performance is reminiscent of her lo-fi, melancholic folk beginnings.

In this stream, she performs solo. Reverberating guitar strings melt into the virtual atmosphere, soaring through the metaphorical sonic cosmos. Her quivering vibrato tingle lullaby lilts as she mesmerises her online crowd; we watch in awe of her whispers and belts of plaintive prose.

Her fifth studio album, Whole New Mess has arrived in a messy state of the world, embedded from the changing seasons in Olsen’s own life. “I wanted to record when I was still processing these feelings,” she tells us. “These are the personal takes, encapsulated in a moment.”

It’s her first fully solo album since her 2012 debut, Half Way Home, carving skeletal forms of her tracks from the highly-acclaimed 2019 album, All Mirrors.

The album was recorded over ten days in late 2018 in a church in the Pacific Northwest; a resonant cave for her calculated guitar chords, bouncing off the high cathedral ceilings. Live and within the album, Olsen has reimagined the orchestral arrangements in All Mirrors into something more intimate: a symphony of bare, transfixing emotion.

On this night in Asheville, nature is her crowd. The lush forest cloaks Olsen’s stage in her solemn serenade as the camera pulls away from her, scanning the surroundings. She jokingly narrates her errors – “Let’s try it again, I messed up” – chuckling to herself during ‘Too Easy (Bigger Than Us)’, the second song in her 45-minute set. “It’s hard to sing that part, y’all.”

View this post on Instagram

Had to put it in park for just a minute !

A post shared by Angel Olsen (@angelolsenmusic) on

The second single from Whole New Mess, ‘Waving, Smiling’, is delivered in harmony with her backdrop. Twinkling sunlight dances through the tall, dense trees as she sings, “The sun is shining/The sun is shining”. The song is a farewell to chapters in life; an acceptance that moments are not lost or wasted when they come to an end. A goodbye with waves and smiles.

Throughout the show, Olsen’s vocals stretch from a trembling head voice into melodic roars. Evocative trills and warbles convey powerful phrases with her guitar in hand. She sings ‘Lark Song’, ‘Impasse (Workin’ For The Name)’ and ‘Chance (Forever Love)’, evolving murmurs into bellows. Her songs have minimal production yet they are still so huge.

She closes with the record’s final track, ‘What It Is (What It Is)’. Her finale of acoustic thrums yields a reflection on new and old messes. Asheville’s sky dims and Olsen puts down the guitar. The cosmos has found its angel in this whole new mess.

Highlight: ‘Chance (Forever Love)’. The emotions! That vocal range!

Lowlight: The show was not in person 🙁

Angel Olsen’s new album, Whole New Mess, is out now via Jagjaguwar.

Never miss a story. Sign up to Beat’s newsletter and you’ll be served fresh music, arts, food and culture stories three times a week.