Angel Olsen-My Woman: Album Review

Admittedly a lyric like “You’ll Never Be Mine” can go a multitude of different ways, many of them poor, but Angel Olsen has a real talent for pulling the listener into her world and making them feel all of her emotions.  “My Women,” Olsen’s latest effort, follows loose themes of heart-ache and love with cool vocal stylings and folk-rock induced instrumentals making for a rather intense emotional journey.  Beginning with a short, stripped back tune, the album first touches on some slightly cliché themes of break-ups, yearning, and hatred with quick-hitting rock songs.  The second half of the record strikes a slightly more mature chord with long-form tunes depicting specific moments of Olsen’s life with stunning emotional impact.  Sonically speaking, the album finds enough of a niche in the general indie sounds of today with rich vocal production and varying instrumental set-ups; Some songs read as straight-forward acoustic hits, whereas others reach near symphonic heights with rotating pianos, strings, and guitars.  Perhaps the album is not forging an entirely new path, but it certainly doesn’t lack in beauty.

The first track, “Intern,” introduces many different aspects of the record.  Centered around the idea of “just another intern with a resume,” the song immediately addresses some of the issues facing young people who have yet to figure out there lives.  Although they may have developed a fantastic resume over the years and worked very hard, young people still need to prove themselves and find their way in their careers.  This also applies to relationships as young folks are often faced with breakups and separation, which taps into this concept of working very hard at something, only to have to start over with something else.  The instrumental on this track is much more stripped back than most that follow, however, the tense vocal styling is rampant throughout the record, so the song still provides a sensible introduction.

For the rest of the first half of the record, Olsen mostly sticks to love songs of varying intensity.  “Shut Up and Kiss Me” finds Olsen playfully yearning for a significant other, whereas “Not Gonna Kill You” delves into her complex relationship with the emotion.  Beginning with turmoil, “my watch is blurry when I look down at my hands,” Olsen wrestles back and forth with the harmful aspects of love eventually coming to the conclusion that this “is the kind of love I’d always dreamed to be/However painful, let it break down all of me.”  The notion of desire for harm comes into play elsewhere in this act of the album; Specifically, on “Never Be Mine,” where Olsen cries “I will watch you turn and walk away.”  “Not Gonna Kill You” also alludes to some of the more momentous instrumental efforts on the second half of the record.  At nearly five minutes in length, the tune is the longest up until this point and the rather epic build on the song indicates a shift from the quick-hitting bliss of the three preceding tracks.

After pondering deceit and heartache on the cool, droning “Hearth Shaped Face,” Olsen hammers home her instrumental prowess on the emotionally heavy “Sister.”  Despite explicitly talking about another person throughout the verses on the song, “Sister” showcases Olsen at her most introspective.  In the first verse, Olsen highlights the love she feels for the other character, but she hints at how this love has affected her understanding of herself: “Oh, the truth I thought I learned/And then it finally came along/Turned around and then it’s there/All the love I thought was gone.”  Each chorus focusses on how Olsen wants to be with the other person she’s talking about and the second verse depicts loss: “I can see your face/Alive and gone at once…You fall together, fall apart.”  Then, as the guitar festers into a raging solo, Olsen continuously repeats the phrase “All my life I thought I’d change,” returning to this idea of self-awareness.  This continues into “Those Were the Days” as on the surface the song sticks to nostalgia, but Olsen sticks in some lines about her past relationship and her current wrestling with its validity: “I hear you saying I’m the one but I wish I could tell.”  Through and through, the “self” remains central to the work even when Olsen discusses relationships and other aspects of her life.

Perhaps the main achievement of the record is Olsen’s uncanny ability to depict emotions and how deeply she is affected by them.  Love songs aren’t necessarily a new found idea, but the idea of love fundamentally changing our understanding of ourselves is rarely discussed at length in this particular fashion.  Besides the introspection of “Sister” and “Those Were the Days,” “Woman,” one of the last songs on the album, showcases Olsen playing with her understanding of womanhood in daring her significant other “to understand What makes [her] a woman.” This may also allude to the title of the album “My Woman.”  Admittedly, I’m not sure of Olsen’s sexuality so I could be reading into things a bit too much, but the title phrase seems to evoke thoughts about Olsen’s sense of self and gender rather than simply her relationships and significant others.  Each emotional milestone or hardship is marked by Olsen growing as a person and taking time to look at herself in the mirror.  The value of “self” throughout the record juxtaposes the stigma of most of pop music’s history that has forced women to sing about the men they love more than themselves.

“My Woman” is certainly a heavy emotional journey.  With each passing track, Olsen dives deeper into her understanding of herself and how love affects this understanding.  To support the increasing depth in the lyricism, instrumentals grow from the subdued keyboards on “Intern” into the massive guitar solo of “Sister.”  It’s hard to consider a folk/rock record unbelievably ground-breaking in the current musical landscape, but Olsen’s artistry is about as airtight as it gets.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10 Solid folk/rock record with brilliant lyrics.

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