Rumpus Sound Takes: Cosmic Range


Angel Olsen
Strange Cacti
(Bathetic Records)

Reverb and other effects make Angel Olsen’s voice, accompanied only by guitar, sound otherworldly on Strange Cacti.

Her location in proximity to our listening echoes as if from another dimension. Pop songs are usually defined as brief, catchy/accessible/repetitive melodies that more often than not deal in matters of the heart. Buddy Holly used his guitar to create quick, playful songs about both the objects of his affection and the objects that evade his affection. To that end so did Roy Orbinson, using his guitar to carry his heart’s elation/ache, letting it ring with his voice. One only needs to listen to the finale of Orbinson’s “Crying” to know what I’m talking about. And while on first listen it might be hard to detect similarities on Olsen’s six song EP, they are there.

You first hear a bunch of reverb, the voice of a girl singing from the bottom of a well, the voice of a girl singing through the vents in the floor. Her expansive vocal range is nothing if not cosmic. This is not what a pop song is supposed to sound like. But there is the guitar. Underneath it all there is the guitar, repeating in its simple progressions. Underneath it all there is the ache of love.

Olsen sings on “Some Things Cosmic” that she can almost feel her soul leave her body when she looks at her other. She goes on to sing, “I want to be naked. I don’t mean my body,” and you can almost picture a piece of buoyed light in the Milky Way, with its own limitless affections. Vocal effects are used as a way to represent and convey the hyperventilation and exacerbation of what it is to connect with another—the revelation of “I used to think I was the only one” sung over and over in “If It’s Alive It Will.” Even a darker song like “Creator/Destroyer,” with the last line, “Fuck you and yours,” has a chorus of “do-do-dos” like an oldies tune would. It seems to come from a pit of utter dejection, just as she warned in an earlier song: “Just know the height you reach is the distance you could fall.”  These are complex pop songs that revel in the uncontrollable spiral of endorphins and love while always brimming with unwanted consequences, and always emanating from a single guitar and voice.

Jackie Clark is author of Aphoria (Brooklyn Arts Press). She is the series editor of Poets off Poetry and Song of the Week for Coldfront Magazine and is the recipient of a 2012 New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship in Poetry. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from Delirious Hem, Denver Quarterly, and Yoga City. Jackie lives in Jersey City and can be found online at More from this author →