In an age of increased personal disconnection, Angel Olsen’s sophomore album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, is a succinct, hypnotic study on the pitfalls (and rewards) of vulnerability. Her new full-length, released Feb. 18 via JagJaguwar, are captured moments culled from glorious, yet failed, relationships – bolstered by Olsen’s aching voice and superb songwriting.
With most other songwriters, Burn Your Fire For No Witness would take on an altogether different (and less affecting) feel. The fact is, a large percentage of lost-love songs fall into two cliche camps; the kind where broken romantics bellow away, veins popping impossibly out of their heads, or those that sound like infinitely-depressed souls sinking to the bottom of a lake.
But this is where Olsen’s record succeeds where others that might make similar-sounding music would fall flat: Even though the 11 tracks alternately tackle loneliness, forgiveness, desolation, obsession and adoration -- they’re all connected by an underlying sense of defeat. We don’t get the impression that she’s still hopelessly pining for the subject(s) of her lyrics necessarily, rather, it sounds like she’s picked up the pieces and moved along in her own way, even if occasionally reminiscing on both the good times and the bad. The adage reads “It’s easier to forgive than to forget” and her new record resonates with the voice of a woman who’s come to grips with devastation but won’t be forgetting it any time soon.
And what a voice it is: Sung in a timbre that falls somewhere between Roy Orbison and Emmylou Harris, the songs on the album run the gamut with her exquisitely wavering, vibrato-heavy warble weaving its way through the pulsating alt-country of “Hi-Five,” the fuzzy, guitar-strangling rock of “Forgiven/Forgotten,” and slow, mournful laments like “Enemy” and “White Fire.” But the tone of the album is set right off the bat with lead-off track, “Unf---theworld”: A therapeutic, two-minute acoustic exercise in catharsis with Olsen wistfully reliving the abandonment of her dreams for the sake of love, steadily climaxing with the heartbreaking, repeated refrain of, “I am the only one now.”
Burn Your Fire For No Witness isn’t the only album ever made dealing with the crushing disappointment of failed relationships, or the overwhelming, reckless abandon of new love. But it’s one of the best, mainly because Olsen doesn’t toil under the weight of either. Instead, we’re simply treated to the compelling narration of her journey -- wherever it leads.
Soda Bar hosts Angel Olsen, with opener Cian Nugent Saturday, March 1. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. – tickets are $10 in advance, available to buy online here. Buy Burn Your Fire For No Witness here.