Today’s Song: Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen’s “Like I Used To” Is a Beacon of Hope

Like I Used To - Sharon Van Etten x Angel Olsen © Dana Trippe
Like I Used To - Sharon Van Etten x Angel Olsen © Dana Trippe
The indie rock veterans’ timely anthem of nostalgia, silver linings, and returns to joy is quintessential COVID fare — and a masterclass in songwriting.
 follow our Today’s Song(s) playlist

Atwood Magazine Today's Songs logo

Stream: “Like I Used To” – Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen

Nearly three years into the pandemic, uncertainty is the new normal. Between countless waves of infection and innumerable losses, it’s easy to lean into nostalgia as much as it is to succumb to hopelessness. A year after its release, Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen’s stunning collaboration “Like I Used To” stands as a much-needed reminder of the undying love and beauty that nonetheless persists during these times.

Like I Used To - Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen
Like I Used To – Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen
Will the marker stain the skin?
Stole the dress I saw you in
Now nothing comes to mind
Saw a life as override
One more session overdrive
The ceiling is the roof
Change address and draw a line
Show my friends the silver line
Call my family just to know they’re there

Like most of us, Van Etten and Olsen both had to adjust to life at home as COVID tightened its vice grip on humanity. As two consistently touring musicians, however, being off the road, confined to their respective homesteads, provided its own set of challenges, doubt, and potential darkness. To combat the looming emptiness, the new friends used this unique time to create something beautiful, sending demos back and forth that reawakened their shared love of making music in its purest form.

Sleeping in late like I used to
Crossing my fingers like I used to
Waiting inside like I used to
Avoiding big crowds like I used to

Following a grandiose, instrumental pop intro, Van Etten voices her aimlessness, exhaustion, and hesitance as she demurs at the go-go-go of life and calls her loved ones “just to know they’re there.” In adapting to this strange new world, she manages to find reassurance in familiarity: she lays her pandemic anxieties to rest as she relishes the chance to luxuriate in introversion.

As sobering as the suffering, anxiety, and loneliness of isolation are, she and Olsen approach the folk-pop drenched chorus triumphantly, belting with defiant joyfulness. By making peace with the waiting, with this collective, extended pause, Van Etten embraces the richness of a slower way of living that she has not known in years.

Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen © Dana Trippe
Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen © Dana Trippe

Crawl the field and lеt you in
Brand my heart I found you in
To say nothing’s more apart
Will my lover bе there, stay
Follow them to less the pain
The ceiling must be wrong
Well, my head’s gone today
Sell my past for a way
To sing and have something left to say
Pray my hands, pray my voice
Give the reason, take away
Make believe an order for to stay

Olsen takes over for the second verse with her sweet, melancholic crooning as she demurely considers a new chance for romance, preparing to open her heart to love once more. As much as she craves the permanence of a love that will last, she throws her reservations to the wind to revel in the preciousness of this moment in time. She revels in her return to the club and all that the heat of the night entails, as she falls in lust like she did in the old days, eventually giving in to love’s unique liberation once more.

Like I Used To (acoustic art) - Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen
Like I Used To (acoustic art) – Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen
Lighting one up like I used to
Dancing all alone like I used to
Giving it up like I used to
Falling in love I like I used to

This swelling iteration of the chorus rings with a specifically queer sense of joyfulness.

Bolstered by Van Etten’s fearless harmonies, Olsen belts “Holding hands openly, rights to / Taking what’s mine like I used to” over soaring instrumentals that beg to soundtrack a fairytale-kiss-and-fade-to-happily-ever-after — her final declarations envelop us in a tight embrace through the speakers. The fortitude and conviction with which she sings are those of a woman living in the radiant power of her truth, and her delivery glistens with queer joy.

Last spring, Olsen came out publicly and debuted her partner on Instagram, so it would come as no surprise if these lyrics came from a very personal place. She lets us in like never before as she puts her heart on her sleeve in celebration, inviting us to experience love and pride with her; this is one of the happiest Angel Olsen songs to date, in part because it is such an honest distillation of her and her life in this moment.

Open my heart like I used to
Making out long like I used to
Holding hands openly, rights to
Taking what’s mine like I used to
Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen © Dana Trippe
Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen © Dana Trippe

A collaboration from heaven, “Like I Used To” is a modern classic that captures the complexities of being human in this day and age with timeless simplicity.

Van Etten and Olsen are at the top of their crafts, fusing their lyrical and melodic prowess with a seamlessness that only two kindred powerhouses could achieve. Their pristine voices overflow with a warm and genuine love of life, and they shine as brightly as if they are the light at the end of the tunnel themselves. This radical act of hopefulness and boundless love refuses to succumb to the world’s most recent dark age, definitive of the fighting spirit that so many of us have adapted to in our struggle for something more beautiful than survival alone. Finding reasons to go on in soul-crushing times is triumphant, noble, and necessary. Rebirth is always a possibility, and while we may not be all the way there yet, knowing that we will love each other and dance together again like we once did is something worth celebrating.

Olsen’s latest record Big Time and Van Etten’s We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong are out now. Both artists kick off their US tour with Julien Baker in late June.

— —

:: stream/purchase “Like I Used To” here ::
Stream: “Like I Used To” – Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen

— — — —

Like I Used To - Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen

Connect to Sharon Van Etten on
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Connect to Angel Olsen on
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Discover new music on Atwood Magazine
? © Dana Trippe

:: Today’s Song(s) ::

Atwood Magazine Today's Songs logo

 follow our daily playlist on Spotify

More from Sophie Prettyman-Beauchamp
Punk for the Pandemic: A Conversation with All Hits
The tight-knit Portland band All Hits discuss the politics behind their debut...
Read More