Album Review: Angel Olsen – My Woman

Singer-songwriter delivers a startling record of unimpeachable strength and honesty


Where Angel Olsen’s 2014 breakthrough Burn Your Fire For No Witness flickered with lo-fi fervor, her latest, My Woman, oozes unhurried glamour and moments of sweeping grandeur. Olsen shifts between genres with graceful precision, breaking down the limiting (and, sometimes, sexist) critiques that have dogged her career, often identified primarily by her connection to male musicians like Bonnie “Prince” Billy. On My Woman, Olsen asserts her control, proving that she can be whoever she wants to be.

Opener “Intern” finds her in a synthpop echo chamber sleepily crooning, “Doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done/ Still gotta wake up and be someone.” It’s the record’s slow awakening, as her thick, rich timbre spreads over the chrome synthscapes like molasses. The guitar on “Never Be Mine” sounds like Olsen’s playing Golden Gate Park during the Summer of Love, tenderly trying to stitch a disintegrating romance back together. “I would watch you fold my heart away/ I would watch you look right through me/ Right through every word that I say,” she sings.

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Things take a turn on the engine-revving “Shut Up Kiss Me” — Olsen’s exaggerated bravado is impossible to ignore as she crosses her arms and stubbornly asserts, “I ain’t hanging up this time/ I ain’t giving up tonight.” She commandingly shakes the bullshit out of the present situation like loose change, with harsh rushes of twangy guitar backing her up like a finger-wagging posse. Olsen’s timbre quivers with the operatic melodrama of Roy Orbison as she sings, “We could still be having some sweet memories/ This heart still beats for you why can’t you see,” before cutting through the mock sappiness with the three immediate demands to “shut up kiss me hold me tight.”

“Give It Up” rides this energy into an open-armed, climactic profession of love, the vulnerable admission that “I’d give it all up for you.” The following track, “Not Gonna Kill You”, concludes the record’s A-side and is perhaps its most lyrically vivid track. Here Olsen’s nasally register sounds cautious and overwrought, like she’s holding a match that’s burning too close to her fingers, as she describes an ideal love — one that “never seems to curse or to confine/ Will be forever/ Never lost or too defined.” The tension builds like rising water behind a levy, eventually unleashing Grace Slick-esque howls as Olsen pleads the object of her affection to “let the light shine in” before she serves a stinging dismissal: “May the best of you win.”

The record’s B-side is languidly sprawling in comparison. On the ballad “Heart Shaped Face”, Olsen listlessly executes a relationship’s post-mortem over bumbling bass lines and bloated riffs, wondering if her former romantic partner loved her or simply the comfort she provided. She eventually concedes that “heartache ends and begins again” — like everything else, love withers and is reborn in new heart-shaped faces.

The record’s final four songs pare down instrumentally, with minimalist percussion and guitar riffs accentuating Olsen’s more introspective moments. “Sister” is nearly eight minutes long, a bout of nostalgia that swells to a shimmering Fleetwood Mac-style crescendo as she cries, “All of my life I thought had changed.” Olsen continues this retrospective trajectory on “Those Were the Days”, a lounge reverie for times when there was “nothing to lose and nothing to find.” Elsewhere, “Pops” unfolds against a singular piano melody, as she instructs the listener to “take my heart and put it up on your sleeve/ Tear it up so they can all sing along.”

Since releasing Burn Your Fire, Olsen has been plagued by the leathered critique that her music sounds like it’s coming from a “girl” who’s either trapped or lost in some folksy rabbit hole — a trope that is implausible in the wake of My Woman. “I dare you to understand/ What makes me a woman,” she challenges on “Woman”, pushing the end of each line skyward like she’s hitting the high striker at the county fair. Although her bio insists that the narratives within the record aren’t intended to comment on gender roles, My Woman strikes down the notion that either Olsen’s artistry or her womanhood can be limited.

Essential Tracks: “Shut Up Kiss Me”, “Give It Up”, and “Woman”


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