With Angel Olsen’s 'My Woman,' Heartache Has Never Felt So Good
After her breakout album Burn Your Fire for No Witness, Angel Olsen has turned heads an additional 180 degrees with her full-band sophomore (third in total) full-length My Woman. The record is one of utter longing, finding humble beginnings with a first half steeped in power pop numbers that loudly and proudly display the feeling of pining over love both lost and out of reach, while the second half takes a sullen turn, waxing wearily and distressfully on the human condition in love’s wake.
Olsen addresses heartbreak through modes of the past, exploring decades-old genres to tell the stories of her yearning. “Never Be Mine” features a Byrds-esque 12-string acoustic guitar riff following its refrain, mimicking the recurring melody with a laconic psych vibe, as if The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Anenome” swapped its druggy anesthesia with a love potion. “Shut Up Kiss Me” is glam rock by design. The dry, jangly guitars recycle the half-distorted tonality (and possible bar chord crescendo homage) found in David Bowie’s “Changes” and Olsen’s vocal delivery - wounded yet prideful and taking charge - would not sound out of place on any of the various Ellen Foley-featured Meat Loaf cuts.
“Shut Up Kiss Me”
My Woman reaches a fever pitch with “Sister,” inarguably Olsen’s pinnacle songwriting effort to date. The eight-minute odyssey treads an ambiguous path; song title aside, for an album so drenched in lovesickness, the subject of this song could be connected to the narrator either intimately or platonically, yet regardless of their status, “soulmate” appears to be an apt catchall after hearing Olsen come to the terms, “I want to die right next to you.” Near the four-and-a-half minute mark, she repeats the line “All my life I thought I’d change,” singing it into existence. The repetition begins as nothing more than a lamentation before finally evolving into something not just legitimate, but blindingly real. By sheer will, through the conviction of Olsen’s incredible croon in addition to the newfound dynamic purpose of her full band, her lyrical character achieves the metamorphosis they have long sought.
For the second time in a row, she’s made a point of reaching a brooding statement with the titular track. Album namesake “Woman” is not as desolate and foreboding as the previous album’s title-dropping “White Fire,” but it follows suit in demarcating the juncture in which Olsen requires a solo spotlight while still fraught with a heady cocktail of emotion. “I dare you to understand/what makes me a woman,” sung from a damaged and reclaiming perspective - it’s Angel Olsen’s Blues, tried and true. She embodies two very different moods on this LP in effort to cope with the pangs of longing, splitting My Woman into an initial approach of it’s-not-over fervor and the latter being acceptance, with the occasional habit of reminiscing (“Those Were the Days”). Acceptance is the first step to recovery, and if Olsen’s third full-length is any indication, this is her feet stuck on that first step, put to tape. Fortunately, she makes that romantic suffering sound incomparably beautiful.