Big Time

Big Time

When Angel Olsen came to craft her sixth album, Big Time, the US singer-songwriter had been through, well, a big time. In 2021—just three days after she came out to her parents—her father died; soon after, she lost her mother. Amid it all (and, of course, with the global pandemic as a backdrop), Olsen was falling deep for someone new. Big Time, then, is an album that explores the light of new love alongside the dark devastation of loss and grief. Understandably, Olsen—who started work on Big Time just three weeks after her mother’s funeral—questioned whether she could make it at all. “It was a heavy time in my life,” she tells Apple Music. “It was the first time I walked into a studio and I had the option of canceling, because of some of the stuff that was going on. But I told my manager, ‘I just wanna try it.’” Working with producer Jonathan Wilson (Father John Misty, Conor Oberst) in a studio in Topanga Canyon, Olsen kept her expectations low and the brief loose. “Essentially, what I told everyone was, ‘I don’t need to turn a pedal steel on its head here, I just want to hear a classic,’” she says. “What would the Neil Young backing band do if they reined it in a little and put the vocals as the main instrument? If you overthink things, you’re really going down into a hole.” The starting point was “All the Good Times,” a song Olsen wrote on tour in 2017/18, and which she envisaged giving to a country singer like Sturgill Simpson. But it had planted a seed. On Big Time, she goes all in on country and Americana, inspired by her cherished hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, as well as by artists including Lucinda Williams, Big Star, and Dolly Parton. That sound reaches its peak on the title track, a woozy, waltzing love song that nods to the brighter side of this album’s title: “I’m loving you big time, I’m loving you more,” Olsen sings to her partner Beau Thibodeaux, with whom she wrote the song. In its embrace of simplicity, Big Time feels like a deep exhale—and a stark contrast to 2019’s glossy, high-drama All Mirrors (though you will find shades of that here, such as on the string- and piano-laden “Through the Fires” or closer “Chasing the Sun”). That undone palette also lays Olsen’s lyrics bare. And if you’ve ever been shattered by the singer-songwriter’s piercing lyricism, you may want to steel yourself. Here, Olsen’s words are more affecting, honest, and raw than ever before, as she navigates not just love and loss but also self-acceptance (“I need to be myself/I won't live another lie,” she sings on “Right Now”), our changed world post-pandemic (“Go Home”), and moving forward after the worst has happened. And on the album’s exquisite final track, “Chasing the Sun,” Olsen allows herself to do just that, however tentatively. “Everyone’s wondered where I’ve gone,” she sings. “Having too much fun… Spending the day/Driving away the blues.”

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