Whole New Mess might be a reinterpretation of old material but its intimate, melancholic shift poignantly reflects 2020’s somber mood.
Angel Olsen is back, this time with a rework of 2019’s All Mirrors titled Whole New Mess. While this may sound like material more suited for a B-sides release, Olsen’s demonstrated commitment to progressing her sound results in a record that works as a worthwhile standalone listen, replete with some welcome introspection for the times we live in now.
All Mirrors was a huge sonic step for Olsen, jumping into cacophonous, horn-filled soundscapes with her timeless voice practically taking a step to the side in favor of the scenes she was creating. It was an album made to be heard in a crowded concert hall (and it indeed benefitted greatly from this context if you were fortunate to experience it). On Whole New Mess, these very same melodies are reworked into acoustic, vocal-forward mixes, notably fitting for an “at home with headphones” listen, as is the norm in our socially distant era. Whether this revisiting was planned before the pandemic or not, the end result testifies to its logic, and it feels particularly comforting in the landscape’s dearth of live shows.
Whole New Mess is an affectingly intimate record, the impression as if Olsen herself is performing in your living room. “(New Love) Cassette” and “(Summer Song)” remain the melodic standouts here, as they were on All Mirrors, though the change in backing music makes for a darker, more melancholic tone. In other words, given the sonic shift, it’s largely what you might expect from such an album, but executed to maximum effect: new music from Angel Olsen, distilled from the grain of old songs. And in listening to Whole New Mess, you can feel both that past and present distinctly, making for a wonderful and necessary, if not quite revolutionary, listen.
Published as part of Ledger Line | Q3 2020 Issue — Part 2.