Angel Olsen: Traveling Towards the Tiniest Light

by Dana Reinoos

In 2011, Angel Olsen introduced herself to the public as a woman emerging from the darkness with a Mona Lisa smile, and one who carried that voice. High and warbling, yet full and warm, Olsen sounds on Strange Cacti like a time traveler from a century ago, her voice steeped in women’s vocal experimentations from jazz forward. While her sound is reminiscent of Dinah Washington, Olsen’s alchemic vocal style is also indebted to Yoko Ono and Joanna Newsom—artists who use their unusual voices to huge effect, stretching the limits of genre to create distinctly feminine (and feminist) art. Olsen wails, yodels, and croons through Strange Cacti, the final song “Tiniest Light” ending on a theme that continues to echo throughout her work: “I’m looking out for the tiniest life / I’ll be looking for the tiniest sight / I’ll be looking out for the tiniest light / To shine, shine on down.”

More than a decade later, Olsen is still exploring the dark, looking out for the tiniest light. Her 2022 album Big Time chronicles her experiences with queer love and coming out to her loving parents, who died shortly thereafter. Love and grief hold hands on Big Time, and the years have deepened Olsen’s voice accordingly. No longer does she wail from outside our stratosphere, though in the artist’s statement for the album’s accompanying film, Olsen admits dreaming of time travel after her mother’s death. Her anguish and her peace are the tiniest light we see in the dark, an artist dedicated to finding those moments of illumination in the everyday.

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Dana Reinoos is a film festival professional and writer based in Milwaukee, WI.

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