Whole New Mess by Angel Olsen [9/10]

Whole New Mess” is essentially the set of demos underlying All Mirrors, that revved-up, souped-up tilt at grandiosity that succeeded splendidly. All Mirrors was a triumphant song-cycle, I thought at the time, so would Whole New Mess, released less than a year later, pale by contrast? Not at all, it turns out. The nine progenitor songs, featuring her swoon-worthy, soaring voice (the voice I first fell in love with) and accompanied by scratchy or reverb guitar with occasional organ thrown in, almost feel like different compositions. The rawness elicits the underlying harshness of her lyrics, while her voice beckons rather than rouses. “What It Is (What It Is)” feels doubly powerful compared with the band-backed storm version. The woozy, guitar-up-at-mike version of “(New Love) Cassette” is a stunner, while “(We Are All Mirrors)”, which became the torchy title track of last year’s release, conjures up images of Olsen enfolding the world with her voice-and-guitar genius. There are two tracks new to us, and the title track, “Whole New Mess,” is a career highlight, a broken, emotive plea. Overall, I rate Whole New Mess even more a wonderment than its cultured spawn. Brilliant and beautiful.

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