Friday, 23 September 2016

Angel Olsen - My Woman review

The first time I encountered the wonder that is Angel Olsen’s ethereal coo was when I stumbled upon her (proper) debut album Half Way Home whilst scrolling through some random Spotify recommendations. From the moment I heard the devastating bleakness of ‘Waiting’ and ‘Safe in The Womb’ I was HOOKED, especially being the ever-so-slightly morbid teenager that I was at the time (and still kinda am). Fast forward to 2014, Angel, newly signed to Jagjaguar, burst into to the forefront of the ~indie scene~ with ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’, an angst-ridden, amped-up and fuzzy slice of folk-rock, which she later followed with one of my favourite albums of that year in the form of Burn Your Fire For No Witness. What was so special about Burn… was how Olsen balanced out the storming indie rock tracks like ‘Hi-Five’ with softer deep-cuts which recalled her earlier work, in particular the track ‘Windows’; despite being a melancholic and majestic closing ballad, there was an undertone of optimism as she gazed into the future which left me with a cheesy, almost Disney-esque sense of joy and fulfillment whenever I listened to the album. Like Burn…, My Woman is yet another stellar addition to Olsen’s discography that cements her status as one of our generation’s greatest singer/songwriters.

My Woman is a record that is best dissected when divided into two (especially helpful since it consists of 10 tracks), the first half being more uptempo and light (sonically speaking). The album opens with ‘Intern’, the first taste we got of the album accompanied with a sleek and brooding visual featuring Olsen donning a silver tinsel wig. This aesthetic was continued by the video for standout track ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’, easily the most accessible and instant song on the record and possibly in her discography thus far. In both the video and the track itself Angel is giving an unprecedented level of attitude and confidence, which is wonderful to see, especially since she’s on skates for the majority of the video – now that’s talent. ‘Give It Up’ is similarly urgent, especially with the gritty, almost Nirvana-esque guitars which kick in during the latter half of the track.  Rounding off the first half of the record, ‘Not Gonna Kill You’ acts almost as a sequel to Windows – to me, the ‘I’ll let the light shine in’ refrain reads as an ode to ‘what’s so wrong with the light?’, despite the styles of the two respective tracks being vastly different.

The latter half sees Olsen return to a more solemn and reflective palette; the amps get turned down, the themes become more nostalgic and the lyrics become more prominent over the production flourishes. That’s not to suggest that the quality, nor the energy, dip in the slightest, in fact, tracks such as ‘Never Be Mine’ are among her very best. The transitional moment on the album comes in the form of ‘Heart Shaped Face’ a soothing and warm tribute to aging – the process of becoming more mature and wise as you go through life. Despite its length, the track ‘Sister’ acts as one of the most enthralling and gripping moments on an album full of them; starting of skeletal and unassuming, the track later comes alive as she launches her distinctive coo over a chorus of roaring guitars. Similarly, the track ‘Woman’ utilizes it’s 7-minute-exceeding running time to create the most dynamic and complex ~pieces~ in her discography, ranging from haunting organ-led soundscapes at the start to an array of psychedelic guitars towards the end. 

After a period of silence, Olsen threw us a curveball in the form of Intern, which inferred that her new project would be a synth-heavy plunge into the unknown…which turned out to not be the case in the slightest. Regardless of that, what we ended up with was a fully-realized sound showcased in a consistent and cohesive collection of songs in which we see her at her most confident and comfortable, which is an absolute joy to witness. The best part is that she will only continue to get better as her career progresses, which is an incredibly exciting prospect.

Best tracks: All of them, basically.