Essential New Music: Angel Olsen’s “Phases”

On the coattails of My Woman, Angel Olsen’s 2016 breakout LP, comes Phases, a collection of outtakes, b-sides and demos. By definition, the album is a mixed affair, but it’s notable for those of us who love Olsen’s dramatic, haunted voice and tension-filled but often understated arrangements. Phases picks up her story after her early cassettes and first LP with 2013’s “Sweet Dreams,” a quavering, electric single she did with members of the Cairo Gang. The album isn’t sequenced chronologically, however; instead it groups its songs into pairs, beginning with a couple of full-bodied, churning leftovers from My Woman (including the seven-minute-plus Velvet Underground-like “Special”—a highlight), then moving back to a pair of delicate, waltz-like outtakes from 2014’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness. Later come home demos from 2016 of songs by Bruce Springsteen (“Tougher Than The Rest”) and Roky Erickson (“For You”). But what Phases lacks in structural coherence it makes up for in the stirring depth of the individual performances. These are worthy outliers.

—Steve Klinge