Angel Olsen - My Woman (4.5/5)
When I saw Angel Olsen in concert earlier this year, her entire backing band (five musicians in all) were decked out in blue, mid-60s suits while she sported a Beatnik inspired horizontally striped shirt. This stylish coterie looked like the perfect visual representation of Olsen’s latest album, My Woman. Olsen’s music has a buttoned up precision that’s periodically torn by the occasionally falsetto or guitar. It’s this tension between restraint and release that power Olsen’s latest.
My Woman cycles through an impressive array of genres, many of them plucked straight from the sixties. As much as she was pegged as a folkie early in her career, Olsen musical horizons aren’t so circumspect. In the album’s catchiest track, “Shut Up and Kiss Me,” she affects a pouty vamp for what’s essentially an early girl group R&B number. About a minute and a half into “Not Gonna Kill You,” the song shatters into a psychedelic Jefferson Starship song with Olsen doing her best Grace Slick impression.
Although Olsen clothes herself in different musical forms, her personality always breaks through. You can find snippets of 60s influence throughout My Woman, but they are integrated within Olsen’s songwriting rather than sublimating her own voice. For me, the nearly eight minute song “Sister” serves as the album’s highlight. The song starts off with a languid cadence but continues to build throughout. The song evokes the feeling of driving out West, past the flat prairies and parched deserts, until finally the Rockies burst upon the skyline. Olsen repeats the mantra “All my life I thought I’d change” in its final minutes, achieving some sort of transcendence.
The songs are helped by the simple fact that the album sounds pristine. You can hear each individual instrument in the mix, which gives Olsen enough backing for whenever she wants to lob her vocals into the cheap seats. The interplay between the players could only have been achieved by playing together and recording live by a talented backing band. My Woman is another entry into Olsen’s discography that showcases her interest in pushing her sound forward, often by churning over the past and making it sound new.