Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

We seem to have entered a new golden era of female singer songwriters. Arguably launched by Sharon Van Etten in 2010 and unquestionably continued by the likes of Torres and Lady Lamb the Beekeeper last year, these voices have ignited a fresh spark in a potentially weather-worn genre. For 2014, add Angel Olsen’s name to that continuum.

Olsen earned strong notices for her 2012 album Half Way Home, which to me was appropriately titled – it housed a handful of superb songs amid many moments of stark meandering. Burn Your Fire For No Witness is Olsen’s first full band outing, and the configuration forces some welcome musical directness. What connects her to the other artists mentioned, however, is lyrical fearlessness. While Alanis and Polly blazed trails in the ’90s by lashing out, the new breed has been emboldened to reveal more complex emotions, adding desperation and masochism to rage and self-reliance.

Musically Olsen’s more willing to mine her country veins, a trait in common with her former collaborator Will Oldham. There’s no other way to explain opening a song with the line “I feel so lonely I could cry,” yet soon after she’s achingly asking “Are you lonely too? Hi-five! So am I!” Anything for a human connection. “I wanted nothing but for this to be the end,” she confides, shaken but unashamed, on hushed opener “Unfucktheworld,” hoping against hope for an end to the romantic carousel.

I can’t shake the feeling that Olsen’s heart remains with her solo material, that the louder band workouts are willing compromises to wage a broader battle to be heard – which would be disturbing if she weren’t so damn good at the latter. “Forgiven/Forgotten” is one of Olsen’s most straightforward songs both lyrically and structurally, but also among her most visceral. And “Stars” sounds universal enough to fit anywhere in the last 45 years of popular music, locating a sublime middle ground between Janis Joplin and Stevie Nicks set to a searing organ backdrop. Olsen completes this one-two wallop with “Iota,” a return to her stripped bare, primitive patterns for acoustic guitar and voice, and remains every bit as enthralling.

Half Way Home left me feeling that Angel Olsen had a hell of an album in her.  Burn Your Fire For No Witness is that album.

Angel Olsen
Burn Your Fire For No Witness