aybe you know that it’s been too long” sings Angel Olsen in the forlorn opening lines to ‘Intern’, the opening track to her new album My Woman. The pain-ridden sense of longing expressed in this lyric is a sentiment that Olsen continually obsesses over in the following nine tracks that make up the album, a piece consistently preoccupied with themes of love, loss, heartbreak and uncertainty – emotions acting together in a vicious cycle.
The wobbly bass notes and spacious, 80’s-inspired keyboard timbres of ‘Intern’ match the fragility of Angel’s sweet-yet-emotive vocal delivery which, in turn, complement the lyrical content brilliantly. The swelling synthesisers and detailed vocal performance towards the latter end of the song drive it in a way that is quite far removed from her previous LP Burn Your Fire For No Witness – a considerably folkier, lo-fi output that My Woman seems to improve on in all aspects. While I won’t go as far as to say Burn Your Fire was not a good record, My Woman certainly puts many of Angel’s previous shortcomings into perspective. Be it through the muddier production of the last record or the far less dynamic style of song writing, Olsen has most definitely micro-managed this record in every aspect, leaving us with a final product that makes a record as enjoyable as Burn Your Fire almost forgettable in comparison.
Olsen has micro-managed this record in every aspect
The lead single and all-round highlight is ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’, a ramshackle garage-rocker that first drew my attention to this new record with its wild vocal delivery and passionately crazy lyrics detailing a conflicted relationship. The disoriented drums and crude, crunchy guitar riffs create the perfect balance between fantastic production and viscera. The track retains a certain 60s-era allure that can similarly be found on tracks such as ‘Never Be Mine’, a bittersweet ballad reminiscent of a Roy Orbison-esque love song.
Chirpy 12-string guitar leads and strained vocal delivery accentuate Olsen’s hopelessly romantic lyrical flair, while the sinisterly-titled ‘Not Gonna Kill You’ marks a more confrontational turn to her lyrics. Olsen’s stellar wails around the 3:50 mark of this song bring the track to a very cool climax. However, whether these vocal moments are necessarily pleasant to listen to is debateable given their extremely whiny quality. Thankfully, Justin Raisen’s tasteful application of reverb and delay in the production takes the edge off these slightly pitchy moments leaving an end result that borders on trippy. Not to mention, her sheer bravado and attitude carry her vocals confidently.
‘Not Gonna Kill You’ marks a more confrontational turn to her lyrics
‘Heart Shaped Face’ is the first of a collection of more low-key tracks that make up the second half of the record and, despite maintaining Angel’s 60s-oriented soundscapes, comes across as one of the less memorable tracks of the track list. Following this is ‘Sister’, a song that, despite marking a certain loss of momentum in the context of the record, is atmospheric and compelling enough as a standalone ballad, especially given the song’s relatively explosive climax that injects a much-needed energy spike into the track.
Personally, I found the final three songs to be the more interesting portion of these slower tracks. ‘Those were the days’ gently dips the listener into an introductory passage with the beautiful, sweeping resonance of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’, bringing the album into a wonderful, wistful haze as Angel asks “Do you remember the way that it used to be?”. On ‘Woman’, the track twists and grooves like a spaced-out Pink Floyd song while ‘Pops’, perhaps the most tortured song on the entire record, introduces a heart-wrenching minimalism to Angel’s sound with sombre, plodding piano chords cradling Olsen’s frail vocals.
This emotionally draining closer is a world away from the fiery, amped up sounds of ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ or the twinkling magic of ‘Intern’. But these contrasts only emphasise the sheer diversity of My Woman as an album. Not only has Angel Olsen managed to progress and build on her earlier music to create a truly solid project, she has also managed to assemble a mystifying emotional progression through the track list of My Woman and put together an album that highlights her skills as not only a singer/songwriter, but as an artist.