Angel Olsen ‘My Woman’ – Review

14 Sep

‘My Woman’, Angel Olsen’s fourth album, has received a surprising amount of hype. It’s only surprising because her last album, 2014’s excellent ‘Burn Your Fires for no Witness’ rather flew under the radar. Perhaps Olsen anticipated the hype train, as she appears to swerve out of its way on the apologetic and understated opener ‘intern’, where she introduces herself as ‘just another intern with a resume’. The music doesn’t do much to refute that modest declaration. The low key synths are a new tact, but everything else is old hat for Olsen and the song misfires as a rather unassuming opener. Things get better and they get better quickly. The other songs on Side A are short, sweet and upbeat. Olsen weaves country pop influences with mid 90s alt-rock and psych-folk more seamlessly than ever. At any given moment you could be listening to Sleater-Kinney, Mazy Star or Dolly Parton – but really you could never be listening to anyone other than Angel Olsen. She’s quietly carved one of the most distinctive and resonant voices in contemporary guitar based music and it shines as brightly as ever here.

Olsen is a fine lyricist; vulnerable to heartbreak but hardly a pushover, she believes in romance as escapism and true love as a necessary end. ‘I’m gonna fall in love with you someday’ she croons promisingly within the first minute of the album, and it sounds gloriously like she’s singing it for you and only you. The way she flickers between self doubt and determination, optimism and pessimism is endearing and very human. On ‘Give Up’ she theorises with a telling self awareness: ‘Everytime I see you, I tell myself I’ll never have this feeling with another.’ It’s a clever kind of modern, self aware romanticism.

However I’m not convinced that all the songs work entirely to that advantage. There is less emphasis on the voice on this album and more of a focus on the band playing around her. The voice and guitar are rarely left alone to simmer as they were to glorious effect on ‘Burn Your Fires For No Witness’. Instead we get some fairly rote arrangements that only really set on fire on the two extended guitar work outs, album centrepieces ‘Sister’ and ‘Woman’. On ‘Woman’ Olsen sings in in a hushed vibrato, in a way that recalls Jessica Pratt’s idealised folk balladry. There are jazzy intones and a stirring kind of nostalgia on the equally gorgeous ‘Those Were the Days’.

Things get more stoney faced and pessimistic on ‘Heart Shaped Face’, a soul splitting number that shows off Olsen’s falsetto. ‘There is nothing new under the sun. Heartbreak ends and begins again’. That could be the defining lyric on the album. It almost sounds like a parting message, and easily symbolises Olsen’s clear resolve and core belief better than any line on the actual album closer, the forgettably bland ‘Pops’. ‘My Woman’ certainly isn’t a flawless album but it’s never anything less than ambitious, truthful and deeply human. She hasn’t rested on her laurels and instead she’s made her most eclectic collection of songs to date. As she says on ‘Intern’: ‘Doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, still gotta get up and be someone’. Angel Olsen is definitely someone.

8/10

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