Angel Olsen’s All Mirrors was one of the highlights of last year. Olsen pretty much never disappoints. Every few years she comes out with a deeper, richer record that the last, both in music and in writing. Angel Olsen makes the kind of records that inspire usually dry and snarky music critics to reach for poetic metaphors: “Behind the parachute silk and dry ice, the smoke and mirrors, stands a record in high emotional definition, its outline becoming sharper by the second.” went Mojo’s review. It may be because Olsen has the voice of a you-know-what, or because she writes lyrics that don’t instantly fall into boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl categories. She simply defies easy description, and that’s why her records are both so hard to write about and so rewarding.
Well, I don’t know what more I can say to recommend this album, except, you know, it’s one of my favorite records of the decade. I expect that this kind of blissed out electropop will fade out pretty soon. I mean, there’s still people out there making EDM records with bass drops and they sound pretty cringe nowadays. Like, yeah, we all collectively became obsessed with dubstep for about 18 months, and that was probably one of the defining moments of the decade for a lot of people. But nobody wants to relive that. I do think that electropop is different, and hardier, if only because its success wasn’t linked to MDMA usage. What I’m saying is, I’m most likely on the brink of becoming a crotchety old person who wants them damn kids off the lawn, for still listening to records that came out in 2012, and it’s going to be a while before there’s a new generation coming up who wants to listen to and make music that sounds like it was made in 2012. But when it’s 2035, and your cyborg offspring are rediscovering the misty recesses of the 2010’s, this is going to be one of the records they swoon over.
In 2018, Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour was the album that pretty much everyone loved. It was the kind of all-across-the-board something-for-everybody hit record that happens quite rarely in our deeply fractured marketplace. It was mainstream in the best possible way. Musgraves represents a new generation of performers who are taking back country music from the death-grip of socially conservative old men in hats, updating genre tropes in fresh ways that appeal to younger listeners but remain recognizable enough to still appeal to traditionalists. It’s nice to hear a record that cuts across demographics without pandering to the lowest common denominator.
It’s not very often that we get a truly weird and weirdly fruitful experimental meeting of totally disparate minds, like when a former Disney teen drops a buttload of LSD and becomes – for one night only! – the lead singer of a veteran psychedelic band. Lots of Disney teen queens have fallen on drug-fueled times, and it’s usually an ugly cautionary tale. Miley Cyrus, it turns out, actually does her best work with unicorn cum all over her face. Never in a million years would anyone have predicted that chipmunk-faced Hannah Montana would make one of the best records of the decade, as an honorary Flaming Lip, no less. She jumped straight into her Sarah Lynn phase; it looked like it would be all gratuitous sexuality, blunts, bad tattoos and maybe an early death, but damn, she found whatever inner door it is that allowed her to be a creator rather than just a performer. Good for her.
The last few years of the decade were dominated by Sia’s power pop. Sia Furler was a hired-gun songwriter who decided to stop letting vocalists like Rihanna and Beyonce have her best material, and ended up becoming a huge pop star herself. She dealt with the handicap of being over 40 by performing with her face covered. The paper-bag gimmick may seem extreme, or unnecessary, but it paid off, in part because it was new, and also because it put the focus back where it needed to be, on the singing. Sia has bigger lungs than just about anyone else out there. She can belt it out to the back rows of a football stadium and still make it sound like she’s crying in her bathroom. Being a generation older than most of her clients puts Sia ahead in at least one regard; she actually has something to write about, like a lifetime of ups and downs, failures, regrets, heartbreaks and breakthroughs, aka a lifetime of life lived that a girl of 20-something just doesn’t have to fall back on.