Identity is a funny thing, within the context and confines of a song. Take Angel Olsen, for instance, whose 2014 breakthrough Burn Your Fire For No Witness found many heaping praise over the Missouri-made songwriter’s raw, rocky, and honest relationship narratives. To be sure, there’s still a lot of heartache being sung about on the songwriter’s newest offering, My Woman, but the promo campaign ahead of the release is blurring our perception of Olsen’s persona. In the videos for both “Intern” and “Shut Up Kiss Me,” the artist is wearing a glittery silver wig, in the latter asking an unseen collaborator behind the camera, “do I need to give more attitude?” Breaking the fourth wall this way may be reminding us that, in fact, Angel Olsen is a performer, but My Woman will still hit listeners deep in their hearts.
Aside from its aforementioned video, introductory piece “Intern” dips Olsen’s sound into new waters. Side-stepping the folk and rock touches of earlier work, it finds the singer’s voice complemented by a deep swell of vintage synths. Her familiar vibrato mixes together elements of malaise, drive, disappointment, and hope.
“Never Be Mine” comes together with golden era rock and roll flourishes of guitar and shimmy-shake rhythms. Up front, Olsen’s vocal details how “heaven hits me when I see your face,” but the scenario takes a nose-dive pretty quick once she hit the chorus (“You will never be mine”), while the finale confirms that these two people “turn and walk away” from one another.
The spirit of the song cycle see-saws. The extremely energetic “Shut Up Kiss Me” has Olsen fighting for “a love so real that it can’t be ignored,” even if it seems the other party has given up (“Stop pretending I’m not there/When it’s clear I’m not going anywhere”). Alt-country-dusted rave-up “Give It Up” further inspects the push-and-pull of emotions we feel for our exes, balancing hurtful realities (“Whenever you’re beside me, a part of me is dying”) with soul-complicating needs (“Where you are is where I want to be”).
As an album, My Woman is shaped into two very different movements. While the first half of the record is dominated by quick and buzzy numbers, the second side is more reflective in its pace. “Heart Shaped Face” features a slow-melt arrangement, a two-chord sway supported by a slight, dub-style snare clack. “Sister” dives deep into ’70s-era California, with the nearly eight-minute piece moving from its slight bustle of bass and drums towards an elegant, Rumours-type back end of ethereal vocal harmonies and guitar solos. Penultimate piece “Woman,” at seven-and-a-half minutes, also begins quite softly, but peaks with Olsen’s powerfully piped-out “I dare you to understand what makes me a woman.”
“Pops” brings things to a quiet, though no less stirring close. The piano ballad once again talks about the deterioration of a relationship, its narrator devastated while delivering the closing line, “I’ll be the thing that lives in the dream when it’s gone.” It’s a broken and weary way for the album to fade to black, but it’s nevertheless another hell of a performance from Angel Olsen.
-review by Gregory Adams