Album Review: Angel Olsen – Forever Means EP

[Jagjaguwar; 2023]

EP is very odd music release format. If a single is either a promo for an LP or just a one-off, and a full-length album is an elaborate interconnected piece, an EP is this weird middle ground. One cannot properly call an EP a one-off, but neither could it be called a story fully contained in itself. There’s an argument to be made that an EP is something of a short playlist. For instance, it could be applied to the shoegaze legends, My Bloody Valentine, who had released more EPs than LPs throughout their career. Their EPs felt like small collections of songs that gave snapshots into one given moment. In the case of a storyteller like Angel Olsen, her Forever Means EP can certainly be called a short playlist – but these songs’ origins are fairly spread out and distinct.

Anyone who has ever worked on anything that consists of multiple moving parts knows that one of the most difficult aspects of this process is making decisions to include or exclude certain bits and pieces that either feel to be lacking from the entire piece or to be superfluous. When musical artists come out with B-side compilations, it is not necessarily an attempt at money-making, but rather an artist sharing songs they genuinely loved, but couldn’t find a place for on their main works. Forever Means is just such a compilation of tracks that Angel Olsen could not include on her last year’s album Big Time as well as on two previous full-length releases: Whole New Mess and All Mirrors. 

The opener “Nothing’s Free” is an incredibly soulful track which sonically mixes gospel elements and Badalamenti-esque arrangements. Olsen admits that it was incredibly difficult to leave this track off Big Time, but ultimately this decision had to be made since it did not fit the mood of the LP. Both musically and lyrically, it evokes that eureka effect that fills one’s mind when they realize how much they were holding themselves back emotionally for fear of experiencing pain.

The title track “Forever Means” was written during the sessions for All Mirrors and Whole New Mess and Olsen thought back to it often since but could not place it among any of the three LPs. Its minimalist arrangement and chord progression which somewhat resembles that of Peggy Lee’s “Johnny Guitar” truly makes it a standalone track, but Angel Olsen found company for it on the namesake EP.

Olsen calls “Time Bandits” an attempt at writing a Prince-style love song directed at all of humanity as opposed to a partner. It certainly possesses an 80s feel, but with Olsen’s unmistakable vocal style and instrumentation it edges closer toward the indie music of that era rather than pop. It was written during the pandemic but could be a great contender for a slow-dance track at Prom, as it has a very dreamy atmosphere to it that all of us left in our teenage years. Closer “Holding On” sees her experimenting with psychedelic harmonies and heavier guitar tones. It feels to be either an outlier among the heavily emotional and contemplative previous tracks – or a taste of the direction that the artist aims to take up next.

When listening to all four of these tracks, which were written at different times, it becomes clear that there is a theme that follows Olsen through her most recent work. Forever Means is not just a B-side compilation; these songs sound distinct from each other but somehow come together cohesively. It’s arguable that Olsen was not just cutting certain tracks from her LPs, but setting aside those that are in fact unconsciously connected to each other. They all circle a topic that would have distracted from the albums they might have been placed on. Instead, with Forever Means, Olsen gifts us slightly over 15 minutes of a concentrated leitmotif, which, if needs to be put into words, would something along the lines of: “Forever means never standing still.”