Angel Olsen

(12 inch Vinyl Single - Jagjaguwar #412)

Review by Marcy Donelson

A set of covers that came to fruition relatively impulsively during a pandemic-forced break from touring late in 2020, Angel Olsen's Aisles EP harks back to 1980s pop and new wave. The inaugural release on her own Jagjaguwar imprint, somethingcosmic, it was recorded in Asheville, North Carolina with co-producer/engineer Adam McDaniel, who provided Olsen with a selection of synthesizers and pedals to explore prior to their hitting the studio. Offering varying degrees of digression from the originals, the five-track set opens with its starkest contrast, a gloomy, downtempo version of Laura Branigan's 1982 hit, "Gloria." The mechanical snare's rippling delay and deep, murky synth timbres underscore a deadpan vocal by Olsen until she eventually makes way for an intense cello solo in place of Branigan's disco-y keyboard break. Maintaining the mood and color of Pornography-era Cure, she moves on to a more loyal take on Billy Idol's "Eyes Without a Face" -- if only by virtue of the song's original condition -- before next applying the dark post-punk treatment to Men Without Hats' already tonally ironic "Safety Dance," and managing to take all of the fun out of the source material in the process. Having said that, Aisles, on the whole, seems like it's all for fun, largely due to its boldness and vocal performances that don't try to connect with the deep emotions we're used to hearing from Olsen. The approach works best on a suffocating, shoegaze-leaning interpretation of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's 1986 Top Five hit, "If You Leave," from the Gen X teen flick Pretty in Pink. This version opens with pounding drums and a balance of synth shimmer and guitar distortion before Olsen's flirty delivery adds a softer touch to the EP, at least until the spooky, multi-tracked choruses. The track list closes with Alphaville's more melodic "Forever Young." Inessential in a good way, Aisles is a bit of a one-trick pony, but a cool one that seems prime for themed dinner parties and TV sync placement.

blue highlight denotes track pick