Release Date: Sep 2, 2016
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Angel Olsen’s third album is one of two halves. It opens with five short, exhilarating tracks that fizz with attitude and immediacy. “Heaven hits me when I see your face,” she sings on Never Be Mine. A moment later she’s telling someone to “shut up kiss me hold me tight”, with no punctuation to allow for second thoughts.
'Is it me you're thinking of, when you're thinking of me?' This time around, Angel Olsen asks the big questions and supplies punchlines to match: 'Or is it your mother?' Olsen's unique vision sparked and connected on 2014 breakthrough Burn Your Fire For No Witness and here she applies minimal but pointed tweaks to her rich aesthetic. Musically, much is as before. Her band play with a 'last take before dawn' vitality and dare themselves to see where the songs might lead them: several of Woman's high spots begin as a whisper before stretching into extended instrumental passages.
When Angel Olsen first appeared in 2011 with her debut EP Strange Cacti, she seemed like the very epitome of the lo-fi singer/songwriter – the cassette-only releases, the collaborations with the likes of Bonnie Prince Billy, and the fragile, fractured nature of her songs which often sounded like they were being delivered from another world. Five years on, it’s impressive to note Olsen’s evolution: the opening track on My Woman, Intern, could be by a complete different artist – it builds slowly up and up until it’s pretty much sizzling with synths. While her previous album Burn Your Fire For No Witness seemed like a huge step up for her, My Woman seems even more like a statement.
Anyone who believes art equals autobiography should look for pictures of Angel Olsen smiling—yes, they exist—to gain a balanced perspective on her before tackling My Woman. This fevered survey of troubled romance in all its damaged varieties, from obsessive, unrequited desire to crushing heartache, is so persuasive that it’s tempting to mistake her for a lost soul in need of emergency mental-health assistance. Not so: The primal feelings Olsen depicts so skillfully could only be the work of someone in complete control of her remarkable talents.
Angel Olsen won’t let herself get pinned down. She refuses to conform to the common career archetypes of up-and-coming indie musicians, she resents comparisons to her contemporaries (as if she isn’t her own distinct personality), and she won’t settle for maintaining a particular sound that’s all her own—she wants to subvert expectations at every turn, too. Somehow that wasn’t fully apparent until now.
In 2010, Angel Olsen was a folk singer. Her first great song, “If It’s Alive, It Will,” sounded radically spare, like it had been recorded inside of a closet, or perhaps in another world. It contained some three-dozen epiphanies—one for each line. “Know your own heart well/It’s the one that’s worth most of your time,” Olsen sang, a mantra so disarming and wise it could cut through the thickest lo-fi fog.
Where Angel Olsen’s 2014 breakthrough Burn Your Fire For No Witness flickered with lo-fi fervor, her latest, My Woman, oozes unhurried glamour and moments of sweeping grandeur. Olsen shifts between genres with graceful precision, breaking down the limiting (and, sometimes, sexist) critiques that have dogged her career, often identified primarily by her connection to male musicians like Bonnie “Prince” Billy. On My Woman, Olsen asserts her control, proving that she can be whoever she wants to be.
Love has a tendency to dredge up sides of ourselves that sometimes we’d rather leave unspoken. Our impulses from childhood, our insecurities, our instinctual behavior, even if learned, seems like a thorny and integral part of our distorted fabric — the lines where our genders end and our egos begin can be nigh on invisible, leaving us helplessly caught in a fog over how we stand in relation to one another. So often our relationships devolve into sick plays for power, into acknowledgments of the act of control, and we exercise this strange need for dominance not only against each other but against ourselves, as if we were all just animals trapped in one another’s cages.
Angel Olsen has built a certain brand for herself. She is a presence, a steely-eyed stare and stern pout whose lyrics run your heart through the wringer and whose voice haunts your dreams. Her work has typically been a lo-fi affair, and a fair few of her tracks consist of a guitar and whisper. On this foundation, Olsen’s third full-length, MY WOMAN, and in particular leading singles 'Intern' and 'Shut Up Kiss Me' have come as a surprise.
While some tracks will surprise established fans, to say that My Woman is a departure or style swap for Olsen doesn't really take into account the album as a whole. The elements that are new here play out like a means to an end for a songwriter with a tale to tell, one chock-full of raw emotions. The songs stand just fine on their own, too, out of context.
Angel Olsen’s third album is immediately and enormously enjoyable, but also one that might take a long time to fully absorb. Its 10 songs are by turns beautiful, sad, funny, silly, obvious and oblique; relatively compact and rockily upbeat in the album’s first half, but gradually exploring more expansive, torch-song territory in its second. The most instant pleasures come from the fact that this is just a gorgeous-sounding record – the melodies are exquisite, the production airily pristine, and Olsen’s singing often supernaturally beautiful.
Football commentators of the world would have a field day with ‘My Woman’: it’s quite deliberately an album of two halves. Sonically, there’s a vast difference between the punchy, decisive first, and the stripped-back wandering flip-side. And lyrically, Angel Olsen is entirely concerned with opposites, too. Running away, or facing things head on; falling senselessly in love or bolting up the guarded emotive hatches at all costs – they’re all dilemmas explored on ‘My Woman’.
Angel Olsen threw a curve ball by announcing MY WOMAN with the "Intern" video. Clad in a silver wig, her unmistakable voice was present, but it was served over a warbling synth backdrop, simultaneously both uneasy and familiar, like an Angelo Badalamenti score..
After "almost quitting music" following the alienating success of her 2014 breakout Burn Your Fire for No Witness, singer-songwriter Angel Olsen's third album, My Woman, finds the Asheville, NC resident eschewing linear evolution in favour of two distinct paths, employing a more direct, melodic approach than ever on the record's first half and sprawling out instrumentally on the second. On side A, songs like "Intern," "Shut Up Kiss Me" and "Give it Up" find Olsen crafting hook after hook, barbing them with sharp, acerbic lyrics about being condescended to by press, confronting overly analytical, dithering lovers and the pain of unrequited love, respectively. It's powerful, resonant stuff, brought home by some of Olsen's most formidable songwriting to date.
With My Woman, Angel Olsen embraces change, even as the Asheville-based singer-songwriter’s evolving sound clings to the past, leaving behind the forlorn indie folk that had come to define her following 2014’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness and drawing inspiration from more diverse sources. Perhaps change is inevitable for a rising indie musician whom Google pairs some 14,000 times with the legendary Patsy Cline in search results. My Woman represents a new incarnation of an artist who’s changed many times already (she once, as frontwoman of her teenage band, thought of herself as a No Doubt-era Gwen Stefani); it’s an album steeped in 1960s jangle pop, swirling psychedelia, and other classic influences that further breaks Olsen’s music away from anything that could definitively be called folk rock.
My Woman starts with a slow, near-spoken word shimmering synth-backed track called Intern that details resumes, walking away, unrequited love and more of Olsen’s go-to emotions, but the album that follows is no right turn from the peachy voiced St Loius singer. By second track, Never Be Mine, the pace picks up, all the synths gone, and by Shut Up Kiss Me the squall and bluster of the noisy bits of her previous album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, have returned. Which is a shame – like John Grant or Perfume Genius, Olsen could easily have switched tracks to make something more skeletal, more elegiac, but she occasionally relies on simple chords and even simpler instrumentation to craft songs.
With the soft, synth-laden glow of “Intern,” Angel Olsen opens her third full-length with this defining statement: “Everyone I know has got their own ideal / I just wanna be alive, make something real. ” She sounds almost tired, as if she’s had more than enough of hearing about what everyone else thinks she is. When Olsen broke through with 2014’s staggering Burn Your Fire For No Witness, which shifted mainly between fuzz rock and dusty acoustic tracks, she was quickly pigeonholed as the Sad Girl, an outsider—“a girl at the bottom of a dark well,” as one Chicago radio host put it.
Angel Olsen, shown at Pitchfork Music Festival in 2013, has a new album, "My Woman," produced by Justin Raisen. Angel Olsen's fourth album, "My Woman" (Jagjaguwar), begins in a landscape of icy synthesizers and finishes with a piano ballad so intimate that it's unnerving. Olsen's songwriting has a way of undressing emotions, and she's got a voice that holds nothing back.
The album itself, she says, is split in two. An A and B side. It’s not quite as straight-forward as the fiery stuff up front, the folky stuff further back, but close.It opens with cosmic ballad ‘Intern’, which bleeds into the tragic sweetness of ‘Never Be Mine’. The grungy ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ is the closest thing here to an anthem.
“My Woman,” Angel Olsen’s third full-length album, pushes away indie-rock expectations and seizes the prerogatives of pop. This 29-year-old singer and songwriter’s previous albums situated her in a certain musical sphere: a folky, rootsy zone where bare-bones acoustic guitar and scruffy electric bands signal heartfelt authenticity. She had the right pedigree, having toured and recorded with Will Oldham (in his Bonnie Prince Billy guise) before concentrating on her solo career.
The most indelible pop songs are rich with a sense of urgency — a message from the heart, boiled down into four minutes or less and given some banging drums and richly wrung emotions to make the point stick. Angel Olsen knows this. The North Carolina-based musician’s new album “My Woman” is full of vibrant songs that take twists in chronicling the deep-seated feelings that brought them to life.
Angel Olsen's new record comes two and a half years after the breakthrough of Burn Your Fire For No Witness, which ended up on many year-end lists for sounding like a refreshing take on Leonard Cohen and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Everyone from Rolling Stone to Pitchfork proclaimed her one of the decade's most exciting new folk auteurs. Her new album obliterates that notion when the dreamy synths of opener Intern signal a completely different sonic universe than Burn Your Fire - one much more dynamic and expressive.
Completely baffled by the critical reception at Burn Your Fire for No Witness, I suspect I’ll be baffled once more. Upfront: there’s nothing original about Angel Olsen’s music. This is just more frail female vocals over lo-fi indie rock a la 90s that people get all nostalgic for; I’ve heard comparisons to Liz Phair (sans the subversion, of course) and Hope Sandoval (which isn’t fair, because Angel Olsen at least sings with physical power that Hope was frankly incapable of or uninterested in).