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Sunday, December 15, 2019

Album / Video of the week, Dec. 15

Album of the week: Angel Olsen - All Mirrors

I really really like Angel Olsen. I think she's smart, she's "intelligently beautiful" in the most respectful way possible, she's got great taste, she's got some useful lyrical insights, and she has now mastered the art of Phil Spector echo arguably better than any other female singer-songwriter in 2019 (is that a compliment? please tell me it's a compliment). I can even forgive her that on a few of these tracks, as long as they still do not get their bombastic pop groove up and going, her icy nasal vocal twang may occasionally sound like Lana Del Rey's Siamese twin. Because Lana Del Rey just isn't capable of such friendly Ray Davies-inspired piano pop as 'Spring', for one thing.

What I cannot forgive - well, I CAN forgive, but I certainly cannot forgo - is that All Mirrors is basically just My Woman Vol. 2, and it seems that Olsen is now stuck for good with that particular formula: she has completed her journey from acoustic balladeer to symph-pop operator, and now seems fully content about having found herself, exploring herself under a magnifying glass from a variety of angles and always coming out with the same result. I gave the record a couple of spins, it all sounded good... and each song escaped from memory the second it was over. Nothing new for me, of course, but damn it kinda hurts every single time when it happens with an artist towards whom you feel so warmly pre-disposed at the outset.

At times, it becomes unbearably frustrating: she has these technically gorgeous string arrangements scattered all over the place, for instance, but she can't find a single truly breathtaking swoop - come on, it's not THAT difficult, girl, Jeff Lynne was picking them all over the floor back in the Seventies. Nope. These melodic moves just don't move me ('What It Is' is a good example - she tries all sorts of weird orchestral tricks throughout its martial progression, but they never hit a nerve). In the end, it always comes back to the same old same old: yet another nice artist so totally in awe of and dependent on her influences that they never allow her to prove that she is really SHE and not a synthetic homage to somebody else. As usual, a tip of the hat for the effort, but one more record that won't be staying with me for long.

Here, take a listen to this and tell me if I'm a fool for thinking that this song gets stuck somewhere in mid-air in its desperate leap for beauty:

Video of the week: Jeff Lynne's ELO - Live In Hyde Park (2014)

Since I mentioned ELO anyway, why not put in a bit of promotion for this concert from 2014? Purists will most likely prefer some footage from the more "authentic" period of the mid-Seventies (fortunately, there's quite a bit preserved), but the thing with ELO, really, is that (a) Jeff Lynne is one of those dudes over whom time has no control whatsoever - he still pretty much looks the same, sings the same, plays the same, and has the same corny sense of humor that he did forty years ago; (b) ever since Roy Wood left ELO, nobody in ELO has ever really mattered other than Lynne, certainly not in live performance. So if you can have your Jeff Lynne in perfect video and audio quality, playing all the beloved hits and almost none of the duds, why bother with anything else? The setlist consists of 16 numbers, EVERY one of them being a pop masterpiece - and the band, which includes at least one more veteran (Richard Tandy on keyboards), is in top shape to do them justice. 

Even those who think only Roy Wood-era ELO deserves true hero status will have a big surprise waiting for them in the shape of a flawless performance of '10538 Overture':

Typically, bands like ELO with their kind of sound are far better suited for the studio than the live experience - there's no room for improvisation, and the emotional effect is very much dependent on getting the polyphonic sound exactly right - but this is precisely where modern sound-generating and sound-capturing technologies come to the rescue, and why I actually enjoy this more than, say, the Wembley recordings from the late 1970s.


  1. > I actually enjoy this more than, say, the Wembley recordings from the late 1970s.

    But what's the point? Your average concert by McCartney or Lynn today is a perfect note-by-note copy of the studio recordings. I probably can understand (yet not share) the thrill of standing there in the crowd but listening to these recordings... Just why? What does it add to the studio takes?

    1. Not listening, watching. The audio experience alone certainly does not make much sense in these situations, but watching these celebrations can be a lot of fun. Sometimes it's pure kitsch or corn, but not if it's ABBA or ELO-level songwriting.

    2. Прошу прощения, но Вы не Серхио Жихлес?

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