This may by the first and only time Angel Olsen draws a comparison to the Arctic Monkeys. However, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” seems to be the shape-shifting front-woman’s new credo.
Ever since the stark Appalachian folk of her solid 2012 debut Halfway Home, the Missouri native has sought to crush any perception of herself as a lonesome country crooner. She launched a full-band, more indie-leaning sound on 2014’s even better Burn Your Fire for No Witness. The newly minted My Woman feels like an even grander statement of independence, at the same time reeling back in some of Halfway Home’s twang amid the reinvention.
My Woman’s opening track (and advance single) “Intern” sets the image obliteration into overdrive – it’s a sultry, biting torch song with Olsen’s voice accompanied by nothing more than electronic keyboard washes. She further ups the ante with its accompanying video, going full-on Sia by flirting for the camera in a tinsel wig. What was that about Appalachia again?
“Intern” is My Woman’s outlier, albeit an impressive one. From there Olsen launches into a trio of country-inflected full band workouts that provide a clear link to her early work. She even dons the tinsel wig again to take the piss out of the extroverted “Shut Up Kiss Me” with a goofy video she closes by directly addressing the camera with the meta outtake, “Do I need to give more attitude?”
Still, Olsen’s just getting started. The album’s true tour de force is the eight-minute “Sister,” which begins as a leisurely country stroll and gradually builds into a heartland rock burner. Better yet is the more urgent and only slightly more compact “Not Gonna Kill You.” On both of these standouts Olsen generously turns over extended outros to guitarist Stewart Bronaugh’s fiery solos. Across all ten tracks the band arrangements are less dense than on Burn Your Fire, centering attention on Olsen’s voice where it belongs.
Another seven-plus minute sojourn, “Woman,” is ’70s R&B slow jam more than anything else, further confounding expectations. Olsen bookends the album with the haunting “Pops,” another solo piece this time backed by last-call piano in place of electronics.
My Woman sounds like a play for a wider audience, but one executed entirely on Angel Olsen’s terms. It’s proof one can play dress-up without compromising artistic standards, and the most compelling example of that art since PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love.