Angel Olsen channels themes of solitude in stripped-back Tiny Desk (Home) Concert series - WXPN
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Angel Olsen appeared in a fitting manner on NPR’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts on a porch with just herself, a microphone and guitar. Playing four tracks mostly from her latest release, Whole New Mess, Olsen is centered in front of a backdrop of trees surrounding her home in Asheville, North Carolina. The serene “venue” feels perfect for Olsen’s voice that often sings intimate lyrics about peace in solitude, self-reliance and understanding yourself.

Last month, Olsen released Whole New Mess, a stripped-down project featuring three new tracks and reworked versions of songs off her 2019 album All Mirrors. The project’s lack of full arrangements makes it clear that Olsen’s voice is the starring role, but even in her catalog of songs with heavy instrumental presence, her voice always stands out as a powerful instrument of its own (as we saw in a World Cafe session last year).

From the start of her Tiny Desk with “Whole New Mess,” Olsen’s expressive vibrato voice delivers range in breathy high notes and rich low registers that echo in fullness. Olsen also performs “Iota” from her 2014 album Burn Your Fire For No Witness, describing the track as “wishing that all the world could see something for what it is at the same time.” This sentiment of clear thought and understanding is rampant in Olsen’s inward-looking music that seeks to have intimacy with the internal self while balancing cognizance for the way others view the world. While still an introspective song, “What It Is (What It Is)” is a borderline humorous take on self-reflection, with the idea of faking love to fill a void. In her warbly voice, Olsen appropriately closes out her set with the bittersweet “Waving, Smiling,” a song about goodbyes.

Olsen’s reclamation of loneliness and search for resilience in autonomy spans her discography, and makes her Tiny Desk set up feel organic and captivating. The performances’ air of simplicity and ethereal quality wraps around you like a blanket, providing comfort while leaving you in a sense of awe for the way Olsen casually fills a space.

Watch Angel Olsen’s Tiny Desk (home) Concert below.

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