When you have a voice like Angel Olsen's, you can afford to strip away almost all of the instruments, and most of the production value, and still be left with something moving and powerful. For the most part, that's the move on Phases, Olsen's new album-length collection of B-sides, demos and rarities from the past few years.
Here, she moves through songs about love and life that, whether because of the cavernous, sometimes tinny production or her timeless songwriting style (and often, both), feel channelled from some ghostly past where musical arrangement was simpler but emotions weren't. Songs like sparse guitar-and-voice ballads "Only With You" and "Sans" are sombre, haunting affairs propelled by poignant lamentations like the refrain from the former: "All your life you've been looking / Whatever it is, you don't find it in me."
Out of sheer personal preference, I find the more fully arranged songs here — "Special," "California" — less compelling, but that's an aesthetic matter over a songcraft one; it's hard to argue, for example, against the quality of comparatively dense opener "Fly on Your Wall." But when an essence-only song like "For You" shivers through the back of your neck and down your spine, it feels more like you're communicating with Olsen on a spiritual level than simply hearing her through speakers. (Jagjaguwar)