An incredible thing about humans is our ability to shoulder and navigate trauma while opening ourselves up to new possibilities. The journey may be rocky, but with luck we can come out the other side with new strength or knowledge. That’s a fitting starting point for Angel Olsen’s new sixth record, Big Time. She wrote these country-flecked songs after losing both her parents within weeks of each other, so you might expect them to be drenched in grief and despair. But that dark period was also a time of self-discovery and acceptance for the Asheville-based singer-songwriter: shortly before her parents’ deaths, she’d come out to them at age 34, after struggling to work through past traumas to accept her queerness. Big Time is marked by transformation in all its highs and lows, a gorgeous mix of songs that takes an honest look at the complexities of love and loss and the breadth of emotions and experience in between. With its waltzing rhythms, the title track (cowritten by Olsen’s partner, Beau Thibodeaux) is as bright, tender, and catchy as anything you’ll hear this year, in contrast with the following tune, “Dream Time,” a somber ballad that touches on broken connections and irreconcilable relationships. Olsen deepens the album’s shifting moods with a variety of textures and arrangements, as well as with her pliable vocals: “All the Flowers” dips into the haunting melancholy of her early recordings, while “Right Now” starts out sparse and straightforward before building into a showstopping glam-country stomper. Among the album’s highest points is “Through the Fire,” a sepia-tone torch song that feels like it could’ve been written at any time in the past century.
The day before the album’s release in early June, Olsen premiered a short film (also called Big Time) directed by Kimberly Stuckwisch and hosted by Amazon Music. The film consists of a string of music videos held together by a loose story line based on one of Olsen’s dreams (as well as the experiences and mindset that informed the songs). It delves into the sometimes hallucinatory feelings and anxieties that can come with compounding traumas and lack of sleep, when it seems like you’re trapped in a time warp where past, present, and future feel impossible to parse. It’s sensitive and beautiful, and it provides more context for the album as it underscores its triumphs.
Angel Olsen’s Big Time is available through Bandcamp.