Strange Cacti

Angel Olsen

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Strange Cacti Review

by Marcy Donelson

With her original-material debut Strange Cacti, Angel Olsen presents a haunting six-track collection of indie folk tunes about heartbreak and life lessons. Featuring only voice and guitar, it was recorded with an almost inexplicably high level of reverb, especially given her compelling vocal delivery, which plays with breathing, vibrato, and versions of yodeling. The result has a far-away, ghostly quality to the point of sounding like an old record playing downstairs and carrying up through pipes. Also contributing to a certain nostalgic effect is the influence of early pop/rock present in Olsen's songwriting, with chords and dynamic melodies that particularly evoke early-'60s American girl groups like the Shirelles. With a vocal tone that is at once girlish and rich (think Zooey Deschanel), she sounds experienced but vulnerable -- at times exasperated -- delivering lyrics about newly acquired cynicism ("My friend, if it's alive it will do anything"). The same vocal qualities that make Olsen so interesting may alienate some, in the way that Morrissey and Joanna Newsom can. However, her ability to write expressive melodies and to deliver raw lyrics with clumsy sincerity and unusual technique gives Olsen the potential to be downright fascinating to others. [Strange Cacti was released in digital and LP formats.]

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