When Angel Olsen released her stunning, symphonic album All Mirrors a little less than a year ago, she made it plain that the record was one half of a whole. Olsen had also recorded radically different versions of those same songs, and she was planning to release those versions — stripped-down and mostly acoustic — as their own album. Today, we get to hear that album.
Most songs on Olsen’s new album Whole New Mess already appeared on All Mirrors, but the versions on that album sound nothing like the ones on Whole New Mess. And Whole New Mess isn’t just a collection of All Mirrors demos, either. Instead, it works to think of the two records as two sides of a coin. Even though the songs are (mostly) the same, they hit in completely different ways.
Olsen recorded Whole New Mess with engineer Michael Harris at the Unknown, a former Catholic church in Anacortes, Washington that Phil Elverum and Nicholas Wilbur made into a recording studio. They spent 10 days recording a stark, spectral record that gets deep into the grain of Olsen’s voice and the way it works when paired with spare instrumentation. It’s Olsen’s first time recording hushed, folk-influenced music, at least at length, since her great 2012 album Half Way Home, and it’s a powerful experience in its own right.