It’s the strongest batch of new(ish) releases for a while – Let’s Eat Grandma’s quirky synth-pop is more streamlined and emotionally affecting than before. Angel Olsen’s previous record, All Mirrors was excellent, but her new one is even better. Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen steps out with his first solo album.
Let’s Eat Grandma
Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton met at the age of 4 in a Norwich classroom. Best friends since then, they made home spy movies together and dyed their clothes with beetroot, but also started a band. The name Let’s Eat Grandma is taken from a grammar joke (stripped of its comma, the phrase takes on a macabre meaning). The duo’s 2016 debut, I, Gemini, was extremely quirky, but by their third record they’ve dialled back the quirkiness in favour of more emotional connection.
The band’s recent experiences have fed into the music – Hollingworth lost her boyfriend to cancer in early 2019, and songs like ‘Watching You Go’ grapple with this loss. Let’s Eat Grandma went on hiatus as Hollingworth dealt with her grief, and the pair had to relearn how to communicate with each other. Walton and Hollingworth previously wrote in tandem, but they wrote this batch of songs separately – almost like a dialogue to renew their closeness.
‘Happy New Year’ is about Walton and Hollingworth’s friendship and it’s the perfect choice as album opener, with a great synth hook. The pair’s melodic sense is impressive on tunes like ‘Sunday’, with its delicate arrangement. ‘Watching You Go’ is poignant, juxtaposing upbeat music with lines like “just like a dream I had which slowly comes unstuck”. The pairs’ unpolished vocals are full of personality, but they’re still musically adept – Hollingworth adds a saxophone solo to Walton’s Hall of Mirrors.
What started as a fun childhood project has evolved into a standout album, Two Ribbons.
St. Louis’ Angel Olsen is on a terrific streak right now – Big Time is her third great album in a row, each one improving upon the last. 2019’s excellent All Mirrors featured sweeping orchestration, while Big Time adds more country flavours than before. It’s timeless with its stately country textures and sweeping strings. Olsen’s voice is given space to breathe – its vibrato-laden, like a throwback to the era of Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison. Big Time captures an emotionally fraught time in Olsen’s life – her father died three days after she came out to him, while her mother has also since passed away.
Olsen embraces country on the opening pair of tracks ‘All The Good Times’ and ‘Big Time’. The strings take over on the later tracks – Olsen uses her higher range on the woozily psychedelic ‘Through The Fires’. The emotional climax of ‘Right Now’ is one of the record’s most memorable moments.
Angel Olsen keeps improving with each release, but it’s tough to see how she could top Big Time.
You Belong There
Like Let’s Eat Grandma, Daniel Rossen started making music as a lark with a friend. Rossen formed Department of Eagles with his roommate Fred Nicolaus, making lo-fi music built around samples. Rossen, grandson of All the Kings Men director Robert Rossen, then roomed with Chris Taylor, bassist for the Brooklyn indie band Grizzly Bear. This led to Rossen joining Grizzly Bear as their second lead vocalist in time for their sophomore album Yellow House.
Grizzly Bear announced a hiatus in 2020, with founder Ed Droste leaving to study therapy. On You Belong There, Rossen is joined by Grizzly Bear drummer Chris Bear. Rossen’s music is complex and idiosyncratic – there’s the vibe of a dusty old freak-folk record, while Rossen’s thin voice also recalls Robert Wyatt.
There’s a lot to take in on You Belong There – it’s ornate, not far from progressive rock despite the acoustic textures and short running times. Rossen’s guitar picking is sophisticated, and he’s supported by creative orchestral arrangements. Opener ‘It’s A Passage’ serves as a prelude with its orchestration, leading into ‘Shadow in the Frame’. Bear’s drumming is creative and propulsive when it’s featured on tracks like ‘Unpeopled Space’ and ‘Tangle’.
There’s a lot to take in on You Belong There – it’s a dense, fascinating album.