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(Credit: Taylor Boylston)

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The masterful Angel Olsen song three years in the making

@TomTaylorFO

The first track on any album sets an artist’s stall out, with ‘Lark’ Angel Olsen delivered a kitchen-sink explosion of sound that could knock the socks off of Gandhi and rattle a plaguing bit of trapped food free from your molars. What follows on All Mirrors is a maelstrom of unflinching musical artistry and perfectly realised pieces of songwriting.

All that being said, there is a joyous nuance to the album. This isn’t just a musician cutting loose, but one doing so with exacting artistic intent, that traverses themes aplenty in a declaration in an album of such swirling sonic depth that it throws off GPS systems in a maze of mercurial mood swings. This depth is reflective of the considered approach that Olsen took whilst crafting it. 

This opening anthem matured over the course of nearly four years(!) evolving into the wallop that it now stands as. As Olsen explained in a press release at the time: “The message of the song developed at first from an argument I once had with someone about trust and support. Later, I pulled from recurring themes in my life as a musician and as a human that dreams for a living. It’s easy to promise the world to those we love, but what about when our dreams change and values split?”

This streaming evolution of thought is something that runs throughout the album. Nothing seems sacred, whether that being the changing opinions in the lyrics, instrumentation or abiding influences and rarely has such flippancy sounded better or more befitting. We don’t live on one track minds all the time, thus, more songs should surely follow suit and sway from their lane into differing creative pastures. ‘Lark’ gloriously reaps the rewards of all the years that went into it. 

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In part, this approach was inspired by an old track that for a long while seemed to be condemned to the ash heap of history. As Nick Cave once said: “Songwriting is about counterpoint. Counterpoint is the key: putting two disparate images beside each other and seeing which way the sparks fly.” In the little-known 1970 break-up ditty, ‘Half Baked’ which we previously featured in our Unlucky for Some series, Jimmy Campbell takes that message to the extreme.

For the first section, he wallows in the melodrama of post-break-up despair, before immediately breaking into full rock ‘n’ roll swing. The belting chorus after that sobbing verse is like that text you get from a mate who has just split from his girlfriend and announces he has “ran to Windsor.” With only 1600 views, this song clearly hasn’t received the love it deserves, but hopefully, Olsen’s championing will bring its beauty to many more admirers. 

For Olsen’s own ever-evolving anthem, work began even before production on 2016’s My Woman had started. After touring the record she returned to it in a fresh light, informing Pitchfork: “It reminded me of the way I used to write, which was kind of meandering. I’ve never really had chorus-verse-chorus stuff, but this felt like four different songs in one. I thought of it more as a piece – almost like piano music that sometimes goes on for several minutes, and there’s a fast, intense orchestral part, and then it’s really quiet.”

Amid that twisted maelstrom of sound is a sort of extraction of her life. The song began from an argument, returned the more stable pastures, before a breakup in 2018 thrust in a dose of turmoil. This is all reflected as Olsen told MTV: “It’s never about a specific person or one specific event, but instead about multiple events that have been similar in a lot of ways.”

Check out the absolute superb live KEXP version below: