Angel Olsen – Aisles EP: Review

This current phase of Angel Olsen’s career has been on an incline with beautifully composed production and auspicious vocal performances. Her last album, All Mirrors, was another transcendent move in her career as she took a path toward chamber pop overtones instead of different shades of indie rock. And it leaves me wondering, how far can this go before feeling worn. The answer is: not long at all. Angel Olsen’s new EP Aisles takes the chamber pop overtones from her last two projects and weaves it with subtle psychedelic undertones, in what is one of the more unique covers projects heard since Weezer’s from early 2019.

Past covers performed by Angel Olsen have shown the authenticity of her performance, giving each song a proper balance of care and fun. Aisles contain some of that authenticity in recorded fashion, but it starts to lack nuance. Most songs get a complete makeover as three songs mirror the original closely without interfering with her vision. Unfortunately, these three songs aren’t enough to shift the overall feeling of Aisles from a fun collection of covers in your pocket to be somewhat forgettable because the minimal efforts to be different don’t stand out as much as an American Idol audition.

Like the Weezer album, Aisles contains covers of iconic 80s new wave and synth-pop songs. The only difference is Aisles checks in with five songs as opposed to ten and is slightly better. Of the songs, the ones you’d expect to translate, with Angel Olsen’s new sonic direction, do, like Alphaville’s “Forever Young,” which already works as a lively synth-pop ballad. Angel Olsen’s rendition follows a similar path and is the one that is as close to the original compared to the rest of the tracklisting. Angel Olsen brings a hollow and operatic tone, taking away the percussion for a nuanced ballad. It is one of the two best covers on the EP, along with “Eyes Without A Face.”

Angel Olsen’s cover of “Eyes Without A Face,” by Billy Idol, ubiquitously stands out. It resembles the original in certain aspects of the production, except for the second half. What is so memorable about the original is how it does a complete 180 in the second half. And like the Idol version, Angel Olsen follows a similar crescendo with her pitches as she switches between similar melodies and the unique take on the second half. While the Billy Idol version does a 180 from a piano ballad to a pure new wave sound, Olsen lets her voice becomes the conductor. It shifts into an operatic and psychedelic vocal solo that takes you to new worlds, like Idol’s did with the fans he surprised with the switch.

As an avid fan of new wave and synth-pop, the level of intrigue increased after seeing the tracklisting. One of the first singles Angel Olsen released was a cover of “Gloria” by Umberto Tozzi, made famous by Laura Branigan three years later. To say it was underwhelming is an overstatement. The track is a total 180 from the original as Angel gives this the chamber pop makeover. Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” has vibrant horn and synth arrangements intertwining with disco undertones, making it a monstrous dance/club song. Olsen’s version is the antithesis as it contrasts the tame soft-disco styling of the original Italian version and the colorful American version. It comes across as a hard listen with atmospheric piano keys and strings, common for chamber pop, while Branigan and Tozzi’s version is charming. It’s the missing piece from her cover, which makes it as forgettable as “If You Leave.”

Similarly, “Safety Dance” fails to translate. “Safety Dance” is a quirky and novelty new wave song about rebelling. Angel Olsen stays in tangent with her current moody and atmospheric chamber-pop sound, albeit missing the mark. The tempo shift makes it hard to distinguish the fun-carefree nature behind “Safety Dance.” Song covers are supposed to be unique and done with the singer’s perspective; however, Angel Olsen gets blinded by style. It follows her along as the song “If You Leave” feels like a placeholder. It doesn’t come across as striking and passes by quickly and leaves you with a great closer in “Forever Young.”

Angel Olsen isn’t privy to delivering forgettable work, but it’s hard to match her spirit in comparison. Trying to understand her vision became excruciating, especially with “Gloria” and “Safety Dance.” It left me wondering why she would make a slightly redundant-sounding EP, considering the best songs have slight repeat value. 

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

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