Michael Peter Olsen 
Narrative of a Nervous System 

Hand Drawn Dracula • 2023

Narrative of a Nervous System is a post-pandemic exploration that delves into healing within a fractured society.

I have no shame in admitting that on October 27 of last year, there was only one newly (re-)released album from a former Grammy-nominated artist that I was paying attention to, and it wasn’t Michael Peter Olsen’s gorgeous sophomore full-length Narrative of a Nervous System. Since then, Olsen’s version of post-modern cello music has become one of my most played and well-loved albums of 2023 (even if I couldn’t get it on this list). 

Olsen’s storied history as part of Canada’s early aughts indie music scene started in the same way as many of his peers at the time: as a reaction against the staid, suburban mindset he found himself in while studying classical music at the University of Toronto after leaving British Columbia. As well as featuring prominently on albums by the Hidden Cameras, Great Lake Swimmers, Constantines, and Owen Pallett, Olsen helped produce and record albums for Ohbijou, Spiral Beach, and the Organ around that time. While collaborations with Drake (on the aforementioned Grammy-nominated album, Views), Ed Sheeran, and Sharon Van Etten raised his profile internationally, it’s Olsen’s solo work defining and expounding on the concept of post-cello music that’s cemented his reputation as a musical inventor and explorer.

In many ways, Narrative of a Nervous System feels like a post-pandemic album, mining the predominant feelings of alienation, ennui, and distance from others and ourselves that seem to be the new normal. As someone suffering from post-pandemic mental fatigue, depression, and disassociation, I find myself self-medicating through music that either removes me from reality or recontextualizes it and casts new shapes, colours, and feelings. Olen’s instrumental, conceptual compositions don’t impose any structure or tradition as much as subtlety suggest and hint at their origins, thanks to a diverse array of collaborators like Pallett, Màiri Chaimbeul, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan’s alaska B, and Zoon to round out  Olsen’s musical palette. 

Narrative of a Nervous System is a richly textured record that’s both challenging and comforting, immersing listeners in a bath of sounds connected to classical composition and instrumentation that simultaneously questions what’s true and real. It is Olsen’s version of where we are as individuals in a fractured and injured society, working to simultaneously heal the collective whole while nursing our own wounds and injuries.

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Born at Midnite 
“*69,” “Spotlite”