Album Review: Angel Olsen – Aisles EP

[somethingscosmic; 2021]

I can appreciate when artists don’t take everything too seriously. For Angel Olsen, recording an EP of 80s pop covers was a process in which she “just wanted to have a little fun and be a little more spontaneous”. Olsen, who has rerecorded her own material to successful effect (see last year’s Whole New Mess), is well-positioned to take on songs from other artists. On Aisles, she does it in her own laid-back way, enjoying herself without being too cheeky.

Re-imagining Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” in slow-motion (really, the first 30 seconds sound chopped-and-screwed) lends a huge improvement to the impossibly cheesy original. Transforming the structure from a near-clone of Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” to a ballad makes for a better song, and lyrics like “feel your innocence slippin’ away” carry far more weight in this reworked context.

Her version of Men Without Hats’ beloved “Safety Dance” follows this same slow-motion approach, so closely in fact that it’s a good thing they aren’t back-to-back on Aisles, or you might do a double take. The strategy is less effective here, as the over-the-top energy that propelled the original version is lost.

In this reviewer’s humble opinion, OMD’s “If You Leave” is the best of these 80s hits, and it gets handled well here. With stadium-sized guitars, drums and synths, Olsen’s version is appropriately massive. If it becomes a part of her live show, it’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Alphaville’s “Forever Young”, slow as it already was, is played more-or-less by the book. This is good, because I don’t think anyone was clamoring for another pop-rap version. Leaning in on the original’s opulence, the EP closer features an extended orchestral outro a la Funeral-era Arcade Fire (remember them?). It’s a little bow on top of the treat that is Aisles.

Aisles doesn’t take many risks, but perhaps that’s for the best. Over the past decade, Angel Olsen has proven herself a more-than-worthy voice in indie rock, and a fun little aside from her album output is something to welcome.