I first discovered Angel Olsen here in the pages of Eleven magazine, nearly a year ago exactly, in a letter to the editor. The author of that letter held Olsen up as the shining example of a musician whom he felt had been failed by the St. Louis scene—a native talent this city somehow couldn’t successfully foster and support, who would be forced to find success elsewhere. And while I’ve forgotten about the silliness of the argument that followed, I’ve never forgotten about Angel Olsen. That letter led me to pick up her 2012 album, Half Way Home, and it has rarely left my playlists or turntable since. It fills me with dark wonder. I’ve emphatically thrust it upon friends and new flames, consoled myself with it during break-ups … hell, it even soundtracks my housecleaning. It’s that voice.
God knows, it’s that voice.
Like Judy Garland, or Cindy Walker, through a David Lynch filter. Dipping up and down; arching lower and then reaching new heights. All vulnerable and quivering and powerful at the same time. Olsen brings this same aching intensity and talent to Burn Your Fire for No Witness, her newest on Jagjaguwar Records. By turns wounded, defiant, and cautiously hopeful, this one plays like the spiritual successor to Jessica Lea Mayfield’s terrific Tell Me (and hey: go pick up that album, too). As with Olsen’s last effort, I haven’t stopped listening to this album, and likely won’t anytime soon.
As an opener, “Unfucktheworld” is the perfect bridge between the airy sparseness of Olsen’s last album and a new approach exemplified by the album’s surprising, fuzzed-out rocker “Forgiven/Forgotten.” And while the one-two punch of this track and “Hi-Five” will become college radio favorites, it’s Olsen’s heartbreaking and stormy slow-burners that, for me, provide the real weight and replay value. The production may be a bit bigger this time around, but this decision serves Olsen’s aesthetic rather than distracting from it. And, most importantly, it doesn’t overshadow Olsen’s pen-poised lyrics or raw emotion. “Won’t you open a window sometime?” she coos lowly on the soaring closer, her voice breathlessly cracking and pleading. “What’s so wrong with the light?” And, with that, she disappears.
I’m hoping Angel Olsen will return to St. Louis soon in support of this release [And she will be, Sunday 4/27 - huzzah! Ed.]. The last time Olsen breezed through town, time stopped for me. She mesmerized and silenced an entire room with a voice, a guitar, and a penetrating gaze. You could hear a PBR pull-tab drop. It was an unforgettable concert. I can’t even imagine what the next show, or her future, will bring. Chris Ward