Inviting warmth from Forever Means holds a baroque standard in its heart as Angel Olsen attempts to denote what constancy is. Underneath the broken lyrics, the surface of disconnected contempt for lost love is a bursting jazz club expression. Isolated, echoing pianos paired with the brief punchiness of a saxophone which comes and goes. A drum beat to hold it all together and there it is. A perfect first track for Forever Means means Nothing’s Free grips the attention with a flaming personality the likes of Leonard Cohen and Daniel Knox brought out in their tender works. Olsen steps up to the plate and pushes further on to try and break the old cell caging wrapped around those who mean most to her.
At least, this is the impression given by the mood-setting powers of perfect opener Nothing’s Free. Drew Erickson on organ provides this First We Take Manhattan-like moodiness, the intimacies of some wild and major piece of the heart brought down to earth with impressive vocals and overlapping instrumentals. They wash into one another with such beauty, a recognition of the theme and message Olsen holds dear and offers to her listeners. Follow-up title track has the sincerity which charges through this four-song EP, the conclusions to desperation and volatile feelings. Clear as anything throughout Forever Means is the confidence, the dictation of fear and the cutting experience of self-reflection.
Time Bandits pools this well. Olsen has a staggering voice, and for those returning to her work, this will be no surprise. As a first-timer, Forever Means is an intense and exciting rush which provides a blend of contemporary folk and charming notes poured from modern jazz. Little flickers on those first and third tracks for the latter genre are neither overbearing nor forgotten. They are placed delicately and find, often, an integral place in backing the vocals Olsen strikes through with. EP closer Holding On takes on a rougher edge than the preceding tracks, a thumping bassline striking through with the confidence gained from prior self-study. Olsen blasts the broken dreams of at-first optimistic momentum. Reality soon settles in, no amount of shielding yourself from the light can avoid that, especially not when Erickson’s electric guitar work breaks the ice.
Hold onto the dreams though. Olsen does not articulate a song to listen to as you pack away ambition and tuck visions of success away into the back of the mind. Sometimes a little faith is needed, other times an EP of resounding quality is needed to give you the shake-up needed. A kick in the head is sometimes best, to bring it all back home and to ground yourself as the fear begins to tear at the consciousness. One smart guitar lick later and the desire to see the light through the eyes of a flickering Americana style provides Olsen with a standout EP in an already remarkable career. Step into the light Olsen offers here. All those clamours of self-doubt and revision of thought, the fear of uniqueness and the originality which spills out in all the accidental areas of working too hard are reduced to trivialities on an EP which encapsulates the burning energies of a genre stacked with notable intensity.