Angel Olsen – My Woman

Album Review by Gary Kaill | 01 Sep 2016
Album title: My Woman
Artist: Angel Olsen
Label: Jagjaguwar
Release date: 2 Sep

'Is it me you're thinking of, when you're thinking of me?' This time around, Angel Olsen asks the big questions and supplies punchlines to match: 'Or is it your mother?' Olsen's unique vision sparked and connected on 2014 breakthrough Burn Your Fire For No Witness and here she applies minimal but pointed tweaks to her rich aesthetic. Musically, much is as before. Her band play with a 'last take before dawn' vitality and dare themselves to see where the songs might lead them: several of Woman's high spots begin as a whisper before stretching into extended instrumental passages. 

There is nothing quite as rug-pulling on My Woman as lead track Intern, a hypnotic electro ballad, whose drifting synths frame the song's draggy cadence. 'Still gotta wake up and be someone,' she sings – a neat trick to sound so disconnected so deeply within the song. No wonder the melody mirrors classic Orbison: going back is so often the only way forward.

Intern is a stylistic diversion but it holds the clue to Olsen's lyrical intent: a compelling dialogue that fuses unflinching candour with stripped back, spare language. Her gift for narrative manifests itself in simple truths. Shut Up Kiss Me ('I could make it all disappear / You could feed me all of your fears') is a breathless devotional so intense, it shaves down to mere microns that ever-thin line between love and hate.

My Woman's thematic intent (it's about "the complicated mess of being a woman") informs its honesty and its hurt. Song titles only hint at the deeper meaning: Woman. Sister. Both hit the eight-minute mark as the band improvises and explores, and the latter, where Olsen howls, 'I wanna live life, I wanna die right' is shattering. The voice – that pure, craggy vibrato – is bold and beautiful, and on her fourth and (by some distance) best album, it finds the showcase it needs and deserves.

'I dare you to understand what makes me a woman,' she demands on the not-quite-title track; a not-quite-break-up song that wearily kicks around the rubble of a dying relationship. It's a challenge that, for the unwary listener, might prove too much – but the rewards are great. In some ways, My Woman is the love song reimagined: a fearless and accomplished work whose deep-seated humanism is a stirring reminder that falling in love is for idiots, and that we should put our faith in any artist who might just convince us otherwise.