Review: Angel Olsen – My Woman
National Music Reviews
Angel Olsen = Patsy Cline + Stevie Nicks
In her self-directed teaser video “Intern,” it’s impossible to look away from Olsen’s probing eye contact, silvery bobbed wig and 1980s call center headset. As she wails, “Falling in love / And I swear it’s the last time,” the desperate glamour reaches an almost unbearable peak before cutting out to a fuzzy television screen. In the comments, one astute observer writes, “If Laura Palmer were real and making music, this is what I imagine it would be like.” Indeed, there is a strange, morbid and engrossing aesthetic that makes the scene something straight out of a Lynch film. The intentional dramatics, both visual and musical, set the tone for My Woman and are a far cry from the wistful “I wish I had the voice for everything” off her 2014 Burn Your Fire For No Witness.
“Never Be Mine” is a quick, slightly twangy follow-up to the sentiment of “Intern,” with Olsen lamenting, “Heaven hits me when I see your face / I go blind every time.” We hear her work through her unrequited love mentally, though she doesn’t spend much time woefully wallowing. In “Shut Up Kiss Me,” she launches into hard line statements and demands for attention. Her signature vocals shine through a subtle lo-fi effect, shrouded by snappy drums and a halo of electric guitar riffs. It’s reminiscent of her popular track “Hi-Five,” in that it immediately establishes a no bullshit message. In the video, we see Olsen in an ultra-glam golden jumpsuit, not taking no for an answer as she loops a roller-skating rink. This version of Olsen is brazen and bewitching, and it feels well-deserved, like watching a close friend triumph after a devastating breakup.
Olsen creates a power ballad of sorts in “Not Gonna Kill You” with heavy guitar and vocals that build to pronounce, at the top of her vocal range, “Can’t help feeling the way that I do.” At the summit of the song, it’s difficult to make out her words, but it hardly matters, as one instinctually seems to understand: heartbreak is universal. In a bitterly optimistic outro, Olsen strums furiously and sings, “I’ll let the light shine in.” It’s both a release of tension and a release of her thoughts, as if she is physically freeing her resentment by opening the window curtains.
My Woman begins to cool off with “Those Were The Days,” in which Olsen (who normally favors guitar) takes to the piano keys and uses swirly, echoing reverbs on her voice that make for a nostalgic capsule of a track. The remainder of the album is slower paced and more intimate, as if Olsen is seated at a piano right in front of you. Early fans of Olsen will appreciate the grippingly cinematic vocals, though there is a decidedly new direction in these tracks.
Olsen blurs the lines between love and loss, light and dark, but there’s no question that she isn’t out to be anyone’s fool. Confident in her conviction through the very last words of the album, she sings, “I’ll be the thing that lives in the dream / When it’s gone.” By choosing My Woman as the title of the album, Olsen seems to say, that above all else, she is indeed a woman all her own.