Review: Angel Olsen – My Woman (2016)

Our Rating

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10

Angel Olsen has repeatedly said, in interviews and official press release, that she doesn’t want My Woman to read like a feminist manifesto, all the while acknowledging that the themes therein deal with the “complicated mess of being a woman.” Manifesto or no, My Woman is a statement piece – a mature follow up to her acclaimed sophomore release Burn Your Fire For No Witness – replete with equal parts savage confidence and brutal vulnerability.

The John Congelton-produced Burn dipped it’s toes in the world of distorted indie rock, perhaps an effort to shed the alt-country image of her years collaborating with Will “Bonnie Prince Billy” Oldham. Shades of gothic country danced with grunge. In it’s softer moments, Burn was decidedly lo-fi.

For My Woman, Olsen elected to work with producer Justin Raisen, best known for his work with pop chanteuse’s Charlie XCX, Santigold and Sky Ferreira. Raisen does well not to spit-shine Olsen’s edges too much. A Mellotron here, a satin and smoke nightclub swagger there – Raisen lifts Olsen’s songwriting to new levels by, it seems, letting her do her own thing.

Woman is presented as two sides: the A-side featuring more pop oriented tunes, including lead single “Shut Up Kiss Me,” while Side B is more wandering and reflective, including longer cuts “Sister” and “Woman.”

On “Intern,” Olsen sounds like Lana Del Ray but, you know, authentic. Over droney, cinematic synths, Olsen warns she’ll “fall in love and run away,” setting the tone for much of My Woman.

“Never Be Mine” recalls reverb heavy 50s rock – think Everly Brothers or Roy Orbison. Olsen is Ritchie Valens’ Donna – a response in song to the bubble gum love of seventy years ago. Throughout My Woman, Olsen flirts with nostalgia, pulling inspiration from the song book of rock and roll’s first emo boys. Finished with the Peter Pan Syndrome of the men around her, Olsen repeatedly warns she’s happy on her own, while wrapping her sound in the retro tapestry of pompadoured boys who can’t buy love.

“Give it Up” and lead single “Shut Up Kiss Me” are straight ahead indie rock – modern grunge pop and undeniably catchy. On the latter, Olsen admonishes a feeble lover for thinking she’s just going to walk away quietly. On the former, Olsen seems to say that underneath the angsty exterior is a woman who would settle down if the men around her would stop acting like boys and be men.

“Heart Shaped Face” carries a rocksteady back beat, with hints of country. The Wailers covering Willie, smogged out in a psychedelic haze.

“Woman” is heavenly, a slice of 60s soul with a hymnal quality. At seven minutes, this is Olsen’s final exorcism, where the songstress gets everything that’s left to say off of her chest. “I dare you to understand what makes me a woman.”

My Woman closes with “Pops.” A solo Olsen sitting at her piano, her voice distorted and damaged, Pops” is haunting. “You can go on home, you got what you need.”

With confident songwriting that nods to the past musically while challenging traditionalism throughout, Olsen defines herself and her sound on My Woman.

Thoughts?