On Angel Olsen's My Woman
by Christopher Wolford
Artist: Angel Olsen
Release date: September 2, 2016
Music sounds better in LA. I don’t know why, it just does. Whether it’s blasting out the speakers of a car cruising down the freeway or playing through some cheap headphones while you’re walking down the street to a donut shop for coffee, something about that city has a way of opening up a song unlike any other place on Earth. I suspect Angel Olsen knew this when she went out there to record MY WOMAN, the follow-up to 2011’s critically lauded BURN YOUR FIRE FOR NO WITNESS, an album that’s still to this day as calming at times as it is haunting.*
So, like many before her, how does one create a follow-up to a near-perfect album like BURN…? The easy answer is this: you create a perfect one. Maybe you abandon the familiarity of the Midwest and embrace the unknown of the West Coast. Maybe that’s the trick. But a trick is something you do to make others believe what you’ve done (or recorded) is so good it’s almost unbelievable, magical even. The secret behind the trick is holding on to that special something that defines YOU while everything, including you, changes.
In Olsen’s case, that something was and is her voice - a sometimes piercing, often hypnotizing, always powerful warble of a voice - and in today’s music landscape, while artists desperately try to create the Next Great Thing, often abandoning what made us fall in love with their music in the first place, Olsen and her voice are steadfast, even as the sounds around her push and pull, going from pillowy synth numbers in album opener “INTERN” to fuzzed out guitars in tracks like “SHUT UP KISS ME.” By the time the solo in “SISTER” is over and the music has come crashing down to a faint murmur, Olsen returns just in time to carry the song to the end, whispering “All my life I thought had changed,” a realization she seems to be coming to terms with more and more each time its repeated.
Someday down the road, MY WOMAN will be an album that gets brought up alongside masterpieces like DUSTY IN MEMPHIS or Joni Mitchell’s BLUE. Albums so permeated in our musical canon, it’s heartbreaking to imagine a world where they don’t exist. Like them, MY WOMAN is something you tell your friends about now, and then later your kids, who tell their friends, and so on and so forth. It gets lost and rediscovered with each generation, constantly taking on new meaning and importance without ever altering in any way. In short, it’s an album for all time.
This evening, I’ll be head to my local record shop here in Bloomington and pick up my reserved copy of MY WOMAN. I’ll drive home, put it on the turntable, and let it play, one side at a time. I’ll listen and love everything about it - her voice, the lyrics, the band – then, when I play it again, I’ll think about LA and try to imagine how a perfect album like MY WOMAN would sound while driving down the winding roads of Laurel Canyon on a cool April morning with the sun shining and no clouds in the sky.
*And if you’re not convinced, grab a pair of headphones and listen to the song “WHITE FIRE,” alone, at night, with the lights out and a candle burning. You’ll feel every note deep down in your bones. Forever. Guaranteed.