All Mirrors (Jagjaguwar/Inertia)
Inside The Still Life (Echo Foxtrot)
At a time when most of us probably spend most of our listening time through headphones, or at least earplugs, rather than speakers in a room or car, it may be odd to talk about particular albums being headphone records.
If nothing else, the idea that you’ll hear better/feel closer with your cans on is negated somewhat by the compromises of compressed streaming sounds, even before we get to those little buds and their crushing effect on clarity, depth and width.
However, when I talk about Angel Olsen’s, and especially Coda Chroma’s, new albums being headphone ones I am talking as much aesthetic as sonic qualities; I’m looking at the way these are two albums where immersion is the best – the only sensible – approach for complete satisfaction. And for proper understanding.
Olsen, with producer John Congleton, and Kate Lucas, with producer/collaborator Damien Charles, provide a kind of glistening space for their songs. No, that isn’t some pop sheen on one of those plastic surfaces that absorbs nothing and reflects little but your own shallowness at you.
The glistening space on these records is like a city night with deflected lighting, their reflections a sparkling dance across your eyes, the darker sections promising rather than foreboding.
The piano and drums of Spring, on All Mirrors, feels uncannily like we have been dropped into an Abbey Road session, Olsen swimming in its pleasures as if not yet convinced that’s Ringo on the kit but prepared to dream on anyway, until the synth lifts her up like a rising spray in the song’s final minute. (The flipside to this might be Endgame, where her territory is brushed cymbals, Badalamenti piano stops and a sinking to the bottom only averted by the unabashed romanticism of the string orchestra.)
The almost plangent synthesiser of New Love Cassette, over which Olsen murmurs intimately with enough ambiguity in her tone to amplify the lyrics, is seared and then sealed with intruding bolts of low and then high strings. But even then, the surrounds are accommodating rather than intimidating.
Meanwhile, in Alligator Tears, on Inside The Still Life, there’s a distant fade of a desert guitar line and a shimmer in the organ that plays out like some moody atmosphere building, except Lucas takes the wheel and turns it from autumn to spring: like going from early David Sylvian to early Elton John.
That flash of joyfulness is not a misdirection. While Coda Chrome appear to be working in sombre shades principally, such as the folk shadings of the exquisite Drop In The Ocean, a song such as Start Again – acoustic guitar, handclaps and spirited keyboards emerging from an opening hum-and-buzz – or the sugar rush ‘80s pop (non-synth variety) of Open Season, bounce towards you, ready to please.
Even Olsen, for whom bounce is not a preferred mode, the momentum of Summer (trembling surface and ascending chords) projects forward. However, lest anyone mistake these albums for the new pop, Lucas reminds us by album’s end, in the artfully wrought filigrees of Write The Words, that space unfilled but resonating is where both of these records exist most fully.
As for that space, the depth of sound is impressive – you could lose yourself in the folds of All Mirror’s title track; while Coda Chroma’s Bad Luck appears to hang in mid-air without visible support - but even better is the way that sound is delineated through those depths.
Albums to turn on to. You should immerse yourself in them.
Coda Chroma perform at Red Eye Records, Sydney, November 2 and Petersham Bowling Club, November 3, both at 3pm.