• The Waiting
• Safe In The Womb
• Lonely Universe
• Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow
• Always Half Strange
• You Are Song
• The Sky Opened Up
• Tiniest Seed “I want to be a bit like you” croons Angel Olsen in Half Way Home‘s opening track – a confession that encapsulates the mood of this stunning full-length debut and belies the prevailing and unusual presence of desperation (to be someone else, to be loved, to feel differently) that runs through its core. Targeting (perhaps un-selfconsciously) the core of human empathy, Olsen has delivered a very special album that seamlessly hybridises her universally anecdotal lyrical mode and raw musical passion.
Stylistically, Olsen’s impact situates itself somewhere between the sad vibrato of Antony & The Johnsons, the raw folk-infused Americana of First Aid Kit, and the ambience of some abandoned 1950s diner from the mid-West (she hails from Missouri and cites epochal icons Buddy Holly and Dolly Parton as influences). Though flavoured with sprinklings of accordion and electric guitar, Half Way Home achieves a boldness in its simplicity. Tracks are pieced together around mantric rhythm guitars and, vocally, we are treated to a crystalline power that demonstrates an incredible diversity of pitch and catapults us from one tonal extreme to another, much as the lyrics attempt to.
While undeniably striking, the lyrical intimacy on display is at once endearing and alienating. Olsen muses aloud about depression, longing and loneliness, and the cumulative total of these tracks may, for some, border on the impenetrably bleak. There are, however, a few bursts of relative lightness in the form of ‘The Waiting’, ‘The Sky Opened Up’ and ‘Free’, which provide enough of a respite to round the album off accessibly, and quite magically (the infectious country-folk of ‘The Waiting’ is a particular highlight).
This is not to remotely suggest that all the other tracks are insignificant in comparison, since songs like ‘Acrobat’ and ‘Safe In The Womb’ serve to strengthen the ambience of haunting tragedy and, in doing so, provide an ethereality to Olsen’s work. But by the time we reach ‘Miranda’ and the familiar rights that accompany it, transmuted slightly clumsily into a metaphor for admonishment (“Anything you say or do / will be held against you in a court of law / so don’t be such a fool”), it feels a bit of an endurance. Thankfully this feeling is subsequently dissipated with the eerie psychedelia of ‘The Sky Opened Up’ and the sweetly confessional ‘Free’.
Regardless of its painful melancholy, if one thing is for certain about Half Way Home it is that, from the opening romantic plea to the ultimate reflection on death, we are transported into an arena of powerful intrapersonal thought, both of Olsen’s and our own. Listening to such familiar meditations turns our focus inwards as we respond to these tracks with our own experience, and it is this exquisite ability to provoke introspection, which compounds the indelible quality of this raw beauty.
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