Angel Olsen has made some really good records that are sorta singer and quite songwriter but equally rock and quite roll, too: Burn Your Fire was a complex and sprawling record at times, jubilantly anthemic at others, and occasionally isolated in its acoustic balladry. 'My Woman' is her third record and it plans to maintain the reverence to reverb and raucousness that went along with the quiet, lo-fi moments.
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Yes. Angel Olsen. She’s good. I realise I have to say a thing or two of substance with regards to her music, but weaving a narrative about it is hard: it’s witty but plainspoken, ever-changing but staying the same and its best bits are… rather slight. Perhaps the biggest switch from ‘Burn Your Fire’, Olsen’s breakout record of futility and fury, and follow-up ‘My Woman’, is drawn in the opening tunes: both are immediately immersive but quickly dismissed, but where the acoustically strummed “Unfucktheworld” had a lo-fi production a la Woody Guthrie’s bucket recordings, “Intern” is a synth-dappled, windscreen-wiped tune beaming itself up.
The production is good indeed: it’s as well-shined as a pair of interview shoes or an advert for jeans. But hey, who really cares: it’s the songs. This time, they’re non-stop good, each one given an absolutely indelible hook wrapped around a lovely chord progression, one of Olsen’s many versatile vocal strands (folkie; punkish; stretched to oblivion) or an old rock guitar solo on the periphery of slapstick. It shares in the achievement of ‘Burn Your Fire’, in this way, with different song-types making for a pop anthology: “Intern” is a gorgeous synth ballad, followed by the laid-back rock musings of “Never Be Mine” and the festival-goers encore anthem “Shut Up Kiss Me”. You get to “Give It Up” and you just trust the hook to arrive, which it does, twice, in both the cut-up syllables Olsen delivers and the final outro of mantra-and-drums climax.
I forgot to mention this, by the way, but my favourite musician in the world is Angel Olsen’s bassist. I don’t know if they’re actually that good, but over three records, the bass has been an incredible secret pop treat: it’s made the folk songs on ‘Half Way Home’ sound like they’re right behind you, scoring your bedroom downtime, and it added an extra rock flavour to the heavier lo-fi of ‘Burn Your Fire’. Here it’s as fun and throwback as Angel Olsen’s songs are, bouncing behind on “Not Gonna Kill You” as if it’s just along for the ride. Never stop doing your thing, pal.
This is Olsen’s best record. It feels like it’s making that point itself: frontloaded to the point of shooting her into stardom as an incredible songwriter, it’s the latter half that gets to go deeper. In particular, we should shout out “Sister”: this song really shouldn’t work, given its outsized chorus of never-ending love lists (“I want to know you… I want to show you… I want to be there… I want to see her” is but a slice of the parchment) and its tracing paper guitar solo. But these things do just work, sometimes, especially when you’ve got an artist like Olsen, one happy to turn the tropes and cliches of pop music into their own experiment. And so “Sister” becomes my favourite song of the year. Of course it does.
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