There’s a sense within Angel Olsen’s work that music is simply something she has to do – like getting out of bed in the morning, or having a coffee before 10am. It’s natural, something within her, something that is entirely unforced.
Of course, her roots run deep. Part of the Jagjaguwar’s ongoing conversation with the American underground, the St. Louis artist released a series of cassettes even before her debut full band record ‘Burn Your Fire For No Witness’ arrived in 2014.
All of which maps the long and winding path to ‘My Woman’. It is, clearly, her finest work to date; it is also, and equally clearly, one of the year’s defining records, a work of total creativity by someone utterly in love with her craft.
‘Intern’ is a brooding introduction, that trembling vocal set against bulging electronics, with Angel Olsen taking renewed risks with the arrangement – a straight forward indie rock record this is not. ‘Never Be Mine’ is a palatial hymn, with the singer’s voice rising – pun definitely intended – to the heavens.
‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ is a stomping ode to obsessive love, a passionate salute to amour that sounds like T. Rex escaped from rock’s Jurassic Park. ‘Not Gonna Kill You’ is “alive with impossible plans”, it’s coy lyrics wrapping themselves around the most primitive of drum beats.
It would be easy to simply run through ‘My Woman’ track by track – from opening cut ‘Intern’ to grand finale ‘Pops’ it’s incredibly strong, a sustained blast of musicality from an artist clearly in the throes of a very special creative phase. But to simply focus on Angel Olsen would be a disservice to the full ensemble – lyrics undercut the arrangement, while the arrangement frequently cuts against the grain of the vocal, lending new possibilities, fresh intricacies to often startlingly immediate material.
‘Heart Shaped Face’ has a lazy, soulful feel, perhaps more in tune with Memphis than St. Louis. ‘Those Were The Days’ is all gorgeous guitar tones and ethereal vocals, simple keyboard notes stabbing their way from the fringes of the speaker while Angel’s breathy delivery sits front and centre.
Two tracks seem to unite both the album’s overt simplicity and delicious complexity: ‘Sister’ and ‘Woman’. Both stretch out past the seven-minute mark, pushing Angel Olsen further and further in the process – true emotional journeys, showcasing both the control over her voice and the way she can find fresh nuance in language.
‘My Woman’ feels almost like two separate documents working together, a conversation between two facets of Angel Olsen’s creativity – on the surface, a welcoming, accessible, wholly beautiful record, but laced with depth, allusion, and verbal knots that refuse to be untied. It’s addictive yet confusing, instantaneous yet difficult to fully understand – it continually forces to you to cease arguing, and simply listen.
Given the personal nature of the record, perhaps it’s best to let Angel Olsen have the final say: “You learn to take it as it comes”.
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