Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Album Review:Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness


Listening to Missouri-born Chicago-based singer-songwriter Angel Olsen's first album Halfway Home was such a personal piece of work it often felt like taking a voyeuristic look into her thoughts. The album made for a intimate and engrossing listen and - at least I feel - was one of the most overlooked records of 2012.

Olsen began to get people's attention with her first EP Strange Cacti, originally just a cassette release, it showed a promising talent, with stripped back songs, just an acoustic guitar, a voice and enough reverb to wash the recordings in a spectral mystery and got her enough attention to tour as part of Bonnie "Prince" Billy's backing band. Her debut album Half Way Home abandoned the reverb shroud for a upfront approach. Working with Bonnie collaborator Emmett Kelley who help add instrumentation, but shown a great deal of restraint never taking up space that Olsen's voice could fill, with the hook-laden Roy Orbison-like pop of The Waiting being an exception.

For her follow up album Burn Your Fire For No Witness she has assembled a backing band to fill out her sound which she hinted towards with the grungier style of last year's Sweet Dreams single. It's not a huge departure as much as a continuation of the themes she had already began to explored, love, loss and a sense spirituality are the biggest concerns here, but musically there is something more immediate at play here. With this album a punk-rock heart that wasn't so obvious on Half Way home has come to the fore.

Burn Your Fire begins with Unfucktheworld, a title that seems to embody a punk ethos whilst the song itself is closer to the material from Strange Cacti, a simple and sweet lo-fi song with just Olsen's voice and guitar and then two minutes later the distorted guitar and pounding drums of Forgiven/Forgotten, the most riotous song she's written, enter. As the track ends with more of a guitar freak out than solo I've been serenaded and then bombarded with two extremes that show I'm in for an interesting ride with this album.

White Fire is a real stand out, the finger picked guitar line is almost reminiscent of Leonard Cohen's Suzanne and like Cohen, Angel Olsen has a voice that can stop you in your tracks and draw in all of your attention. Her lyrics are worth pouring over, revealing there meaning slowly over many listens and you her just as much meaning in her voice, as it wavers or lingers on a note, as in her lyrics. And it's in her voice that her real strength lies, allowing straightforward lines like 'Won't you open a window sometime / What's so wrong with the light', near the end of the album's last track Window, to carry a real weight to them.

Her backing band does a great job to support her as the guitars and drums create an epic crescendo on the aforementioned Window or how Slow Dance Decades uses a full sound to develop from a quiet whisper into a huge tumbling waltz. Whilst tracks like White Fire and Enemy reaffirm what Olsen made clear on that debut EP, all she needs is a guitar and her voice to impress, it's clear that also knows how to write a scrappy rock tune and has more than enough attitude to pull it off. Burn Your Fire For No Witness is an often stunning album, even if part of me misses some of the featherweight production touches of Olsen's first album, the fuller sound of a full band lets the instruments pack a much bigger punch alongside her voice. If there way any criticisms of Halfway Home, it that it was a little two subdued but this album addresses that balance and then some. In the middle of the album on Lights Out as she sings 'If you don't feel good about it then turn around' you know Angel Olsen isn't looking back for a second.

Originally posted on

No comments:

Post a Comment