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Angel Olsen - Aisles (Album Review)

Friday, 27 August 2021 Written by Rebecca Llewellyn

Photo: Dana Trippe 

In collaboration with friend and engineer, Adam McDaniel, Angel Olsen presents an offbeat EP of ‘80s covers, inspired by the background music that floats aimlessly between supermarket shelves.

‘Aisles’ finds Olsen relinquishing, in part, the gothic undertones that usually lace her stirring indie tracks, instead opting to don a slick of Bowie-esque electric blue eyeshadow in homage to the crazed, colourful classics of the 1980s.​  

This low stakes setup allows Olsen to explore an unhindered side of her creativity. Admitting that the release is out of character, she has documented how putting together the covers quenched her desire “to laugh, have fun, and be a little less serious about the recording process in general.”

Seeking out spontaneity and music that was unintentional, Olsen chose to roll with wherever the EP took her, “just for the hell of it.” 

‘Aisles’ opens with Olsen’s rendition of Laura Branigan’s Gloria. Long gone is the bubblegum pop version we all know best, but then it wouldn’t be an Angel Olsen release if there wasn’t a little bit of moodiness thrown in for good measure. Her take on Gloria is instead brooding and cathartic, cloaking the party anthem in earthy vocals. 

As the EP settles into its stride, we are greeted by covers of Billy Idol’s Eyes Without A Face and Men Without Hats’ Safety Dance, both of which Olsen gifts grittier, modern makeovers. Her vocals cut through the synths as easily as a knife through butter. Olsen creates versions that would crawl out of a packed underground bar at 3am, bleary eyed from blinding strobes and intoxicating alcohol infusions. 

Light only begins to peer through as Olsen progresses onto her take of If You Leave, the original released in 1981 by OMD. In a blurred snapshot of the bygone pop era, Olsen softens her voice until it is cooled, chill-inducing even. It’s out of character, but fascinating. This almost girlish difference continues until the EP’s close, as ‘Aisles’ concludes with a sugary sweet version of Alphaville’s Forever Young. 

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