Big Time feels like a the start of a new era for Angel Olsen, an reinvention record that realizes the sound it seems she has always been moving toward.
With Big Time, Angel Olsen once again exhibits a major genre shift, this time a right turn to the classic country roots that built the genres she has previously dabbled in. This latest pivot comes after a few earlier reinventions, including an ‘80s pop covers EP and a stripped-down chamber pop-inspired rework of her last full length album. Indeed, Olsen’s career has become almost predicated on these stylistic shifts, her work proving a lodestar for many similarly minded musicians looking to tinker, but even so, Big Time proves to be her largest of needle movement yet.
Hot off the heels of two major life developments — Olsen’s coming out as queer and the death of her parents — the songs on Big Time arrive not only with a massive sonic shift, but a major perspective shift as well. Previous records have been marked by hurt in her relationships, messy breakups, and fears about future relationships, and while such feelings of pain and loss are still intimately present themes on this record, they are here guided by a writer with a heart filled with love for her partner. The album’s lyrical shape recalls a relationship’s early stages, the way priorities shift during the honeymoon phase, new love inflecting and governing everything else.
All of this is, of course, carried through by Olsen’s distinctive voice, one that an unknowing listener might assume came from the yesteryear ‘60s country scene of Tammy Wynette or Loretta Lynn. On Big Time, she marries that vocal texture to her music in a more explicit way than ever before, filling the space that was occupied with big showy brass sections on previous records with rich, twangy acoustic guitar licks. This movement toward a more classical style offers the rejuvenation that Olsen’s career has been missing, and in retrospect it feels like all of her recent reinventions have been leading to this moment, a record of clarity in the midst of uncertainty.
It all adds up to a quite natural fit, with the slide guitars, booming confidence, and a sonic farewell to what she has been in the past feeling like markers of a new era in her career rather than just another detour. That’s not to say Olsen was stuck in idle before: she managed to up her game on each of her previous records, her noodling producing considerably hefty results in their own right. But at no point has she stuck the landing as cleanly and emphatically as she does with Big Time. It’s a record that feels like a celebration in real-time, one that understands the new Olsen epoch it signifies even as it’s only just now moving into it.
Published as part of Album Roundup — June 2022 | Part 1.