Angel Olsen broadens her sonic palette on stunning new full-length album “My Woman”
Upon the release of “Intern,” “My Woman”’s first single, I assumed hundreds of critics across the country would have kicked the bucket, murdering each other in order to have the first grab at James Murphy’s classic jab: “I hear you’re buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator and are throwing your computer out the window because you want to make something real.” However, analog fans, modular nerds and guitar-twangers alike can all relax, because the rest of the album deftly and maturely balances that pesky sell-out-second-album-synthesizer craze with Olsen’s signature old-school western indie rock.
“Intern” as an opener feels like Olsen is inviting us into some kind of chamber, an elegant and sparsely decorated room in which her most passionate and private sentiments are unable to hide. Lyrically, “Intern” also depicts Olsen opening up to a new love interest, but not without a bleak understanding of the repetition and dullness that stems from the romantic cycle: “It’s just another intern with a resumé / I am going to fall in love with you some day.”
As the album unfolds, the tracks increase steadily in emotional intensity. “Shut Up Kiss Me” is a flat-out banger and a marvel of pop songwriting. The desperate pleas in the bridge, “I could take it down to the floor / You don’t have to feel it anymore / A love so real that it can’t be ignored” are almost tactile in their delivery.
This juxtaposition of lyrical vulnerability over badass sonic bravado lets the listener comprehend both Olsen’s obvious strengths and her emotional weak points through her stubborn denial of a failed relationship. “It’s Not Gonna Kill You,” the album’s other barn-burner, invokes The Stooges’ pentatonic destruction. In contrast to her 2014 song “Stars,” in which she wanted to “scream the feeling til there’s nothing left,” Olsen now decides no amount of screaming will free her from her emotions, and instead, allows them to consume her: “Let it break down all of me / Til I am nothing else but the feeling.” Olsen sounds like she’s burning from the inside.
After the fire’s burnt out, melancholy is all that remains. The success of the remaining five tracks varies by how well she’s able to explore the other half of her emotional spectrum without boring her audience. The two towers of “Sister” and “Woman” are obvious standouts, with the former possessing a jaw-dropping crescendo that rings with the piercing timbre of church bells. “Those Were the Days” has Olsen exploring saccharine R&B grooves with Destroyer-esque horns snaking around under the rhythm section. The minimal “Pops” brings us back to the emptiness of “Intern”, continuing the emotional cycle of passion, fury, sadness, and melancholy that the opening lyrics hint at.
As if in response to cynics like Murphy, she croons “I just wanna be alive make something real.” “My Woman” proves that she is too focused on getting lost in the moment to fall prey to the crushing repetition of time passing. Angel Olsen has not considered losing her edge; instead, “My Woman” is pressing her blade to the whetstone.