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  • David Bentley

Non-Nordic Sunday – Angel Olsen (USA) – ‘Gloria’ (cover track from forthcoming EP)

I’ve wanted to review Angel Olsen for ages but managed never to get around to it so I’ll carpe the diem. Thanks to the excellent U.S. blog Blood in the Brine for bringing this track to my attention.

If you aren’t familiar with Olsen she’s originally from St Louis, which apparently has the highest crime rate in the U.S. right now so she did well to move to North Carolina while she could. Intriguingly, she carries some commonalities with other artists we featured in this NNS section recently. Firstly, just like her compatriot Torres (Mackenzie Scott) she was adopted virtually at birth and brought up in a conservative Christian environment. You know it amazes me how many top U.S. musicians, especially female ones, have had a similar upbringing, many of them black where they were introduced to their trade by way of gospel choirs but also including, off the top of my head, the Louisville-originating Watson Twins and Goth rock superstar Amy Lee of Evanescence.

The other commonality is that Angel has collaborated with alternative country and ‘freak folk’ star Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (aka Joseph Will Oldham) as has (frequently) Alex Neilson, who was in the NNS section a few months ago in his Alex Rex persona. It’s a small world. Perhaps in our little way we can help bring them altogether in a super jam somewhere.

Angel’s style is that of challenging dark dream pop, riddled with anxiety and visually she comes across as a harder and slightly paranoid version of Debbie Harry. Check out for example the video to the 2016 track ‘Shut Up Kiss Me. ‘

Her discography runs to eight full lengths or EPs from 2010 to 2020 and for her next EP, which is called ‘Aisles’, available by streaming from August 20th 2021 and on the label Jagjaguar, she decided to record five covers, of 1980s classics from Billy Idol, Men Without Hats, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Alphaville, as well as this track, ‘Gloria’ made famous by Laura Branigan although it was a cover for her as well, the original was by Umberto Tozzi. Didn’t he play centre forward for Roma? I reckon he would have scored a penalty, let’s just leave it at that. And the English language version was translated by the now infamous Jonathan King, discoverer of Genesis.

If you were wondering what I meant by “challenging dark dream pop riddled with anxiety” you won’t do for long after you’ve heard this. While I get anxious myself with covers and remixes, Olsen has taken a love song but in which the lyrics are quite dark (“I think you’re headed for a breakdown...are the voices in your head calling...I think they got the alias you’ve been living under...I think they got your number”)but which was written and performed in an upbeat manner by a lady with a fantastic voice, into something befitting Twin Peaks or even The Twilight Zone.

It’s a funeral march in the first half, progressing to an acid trip in a moribund suburban Walmart in the second. Very 1980s in some ways (and there’s a train of thought amongst her fans that’s the direction in which she’s heading) with a smattering of the much earlier Sergeant Pepper in the production and yet very much of these times, too. Fascinating, and she was brave to tinker with a classic like this. I wonder which OMD track she’ll choose?

Fun fact. ‘Gloria’ was adopted as the theme tune of the St Louis Blues ice hockey team in 2019, a team one would assume Angel still supports. The blue eye shadow is a giveaway, really.

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