Review Summary: The many faces of Angel Olsen
Masked behind her charming delivery, there’s a fragile conviction in Angel Olsen’s voice that hints the 29-year-old musician’s seen more than her share of ups and downs in her limited years. As she belts out I’ve seen you changing/I’ve seen you aging
on the soothing but powerful ‘Heart Shaped Face’, there’s a nagging sense of wisdom in her voice that transforms the straightforward lyrics into colorful recollections of the singer’s life. We don’t need her to spill all the gory details, because her warmly enticing vocals do the majority of the talking. Although 2014’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness
gave us many glimpses of the artist’s potential, the confidently titled, MY WOMAN
finds the indie-folk-turned-pop-singer breaking new ground into more subdued territory – and it’s bloody gorgeous.
Beginning with nothing more than Olsen’s dream-inducing croon, ‘Intern’ gets the ball rolling smoothly with delicate synths setting up a contagious, ‘80s-esque atmosphere for her to work with. The track is more dream-pop than it is indie-folk, and the first of many hints at the artist’s progression into more pop-oriented territory. Although the first few tracks contain some of the most immediate and quirky moments on MY WOMAN
, it’s the album’s tail end that makes such an unshakable impression. Early on, Olsen crams quirky, memorable hooks into shorter cuts – shut up, kiss me/ hold me tight
; whereas album highlights ‘Woman’ and ‘Sister’ are daringly expansive and restrained. The latter takes the cake for the most poignant and affecting track, with Olsen spilling her guts in one of her greatest moments of storytelling yet: I want to live life, I want to die right.
It’s a relatable highlight that examines a very simple but vital question: are we truly living life to the fullest, or do we hold ourselves back from truly seizing life’s greatest opportunities? Ironically, the song was written about the sister that Angel Olsen never had, but hearing her passionate take on the values she’d want to share with her would-be sister are oddly affecting. There’s an unmistakable sense of confession in her voice, and ‘Sister’ feels like a personal invitation into the artist’s most feeble insecurities.
Apart from Olsen’s genuine performance, MY WOMAN
is adorned with slick instrumentation that adds some extra life to the singer’s sound. Both ‘Heart Shaped Face’ and ‘Those Were the Days’ are incredibly relaxed, as meticulous drumming and groovy beats replicate the easygoing sounds of lounge music. Unsurprisingly, both tracks contain some of Olsen’s most seductive vocals on the album, as she dials down the energy in exchange for a truly gripping and versatile performance. As far as her slow-burners go, closer ‘Pops’ is a delightfully hazy highlight as well, with gentle, alluring piano notes dancing behind the singer’s far-reaching inflection. Other songs such as the eccentric ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ and ‘Give it Up’ are given an extra jolt of energy with some loud and fuzzy guitars, but the majority of the album takes on an undeniably tender musical approach. Yet, even among the most ingenious instrumental touches, Olsen’s hypnotizing voice remains the most profound aspect of MY WOMAN.
What’s most fascinating about MY WOMAN
is how many differing personalities of Angel Olsen we get to witness. She’s a woman of many faces, and she’s equally alluring whether she’s dressing up faster numbers with utterances of sarcasm or exhibiting signs of sorrow and vulnerability on the more personal detours. Although it would be hard to argue that she harbors a completely original sound, there’s just something discreet about Olen’s voice that elevates her appeal above her peers: it’s in the way she effortlessly carries a note, or the way she shifts from a hushed croon to an airy howl at the drop of a hat. It’s a varied, often relaxed step away from her more folk oriented roots, but without ditching the components that made her so appealing in the first place. From the surreal, cloudy opening of ‘Intern’ to the wild and noisy guitars that close out ‘Sister,’ MY WOMAN
feels like an authentic trip into Angel Olsen’s mind. What’s inside may not be perfect, and certainly not always pretty, but it’s entirely intimate and relatable. It’s as if Olsen wrote this album solely for herself – a diary in musical form, if you will. I’d wager that’s hard to come by these days.