In 2012, Chicago's Angel Olsen released her second full-length, Half Way Home, on Bathetic Records (JagJaguwar, home of Bon Iver and Dinosaur Jr, has since added her to their roster). It's an impressive effort from a skilled singer and songwriter.
There's an old-timey feel to the record that shares sacred space with the early works of Marianne Faithfull and Emmylou Harris, i.e. she invests her skeletal folk with beauty and sorrow, but you've never heard a vocalist quite like Olsen, who floats freely between higher and lower registers—singing, talking, keening. One minute, she sounds like a free-spirited soprano; the next, a tormented alto. She's a showoff with the skills to back it up, but those who prefer reserve should probably look elsewhere.
Olsen's arrangements are so stripped-down, in fact, that I found myself reflecting on the Young Marble Giants, especially during "The Sky Opened Up," even if her singing represents the opposite of Alison Stratton's restraint.* And that applies to her image-laden writing, as well, though she gets ahead of herself on "Miranda" by trying to do too much in one song (the lyrics begin with a recitation of the Miranda rights), the only disappointment on this otherwise accomplished album.
* Since the 1980s, the incomparable Colossal Youth has held a very special place in my heart.