When I was in high school, I had a friend who lived in what was probably a haunted house. It looked haunted, it sounded haunted, and at night, while we tried to sleep in her drafty, creaky bedroom, it felt haunted. I remember one night when we were fifteen, sitting in the kitchen with her dogs, making a tape of Christmas songs for her mother and at the end of the night, when we played the tape back, there wasn’t a single song on it — instead it played back the sound of us talking and laughing and the dogs’ tails thumping against the floor. I remember how we tried to explain it — the cassette deck didn’t have an external microphone, there was no way for us to have accidentally recorded ourselves — but somehow, there it was. There we were. “Maybe,” I said, already certain that I was wrong, “maybe it has to do with magnets or something?”
Listening to Strange Cacti reminds me of that night. Angel Olsen’s voice sounds like it is coming from somewhere else entirely — she is not in the kitchen with us, though. She is in the barn out back, or the basement down below, or the attic that you had to climb a flight of dangerously narrow steps to get into.
Strange Cacti is a six song cassette recently reissued on Bathetic. Angel’s songs are slow and mysterious and otherworldly. She has a rich, sad voice that reminds me of a cross between Jolie Holland and Leslie Gore (except I mean “You Don’t Own Me” (YouTube), not “It’s My Party.) The songs on Strange Cacti are night songs — songs for dark places and sad, scary times — but they’re touching, too, haunting in all the right ways.
My favorite track on the cassette is “If It’s Alive, It Will.” You can stream it here.