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Review: Angel Olsen's Burn Your Fire For No Witness

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Burn Your Fire For No Witness begins with Angel Olsen sounding dreary and immovable, while her conscience writhes, struggling to fit emotional tragedy into the narrative of life. What happens when you realize that your identity has become inextricably linked with another's but they are no longer there?

Thus begins Angel Olsen's second full length album, which arrived on Jagjaguwar last month. Many have noted the shift from 2012's Half Way Home, which relied almost exclusively on the interplay between Olsen and her acoustic guitar, to a sound that is more “stomp-and-rollick. But the real evolution on Burn Your Fire is found in Olsen's ability to craft songs that employ the dichotomy between her quivering voice and instrumentation to greater effect. The repetitive rhythms of album opener “Unfucktheworld” suggest monotony and Olsen initially reinforces this; but ultimately she can't contain her ghostly vibrato from illuminating her reluctance to accept her now loveless, monotonous life.

The album continues in a fragmented narrative that aptly parallels the confusion and wide array of grim thoughts running through Olsen's mind. While most of the narrative is focused on where to place blame and attempts to rationalize a break-up, Olsen offers subtle insights into where she's headed. On “Hi-Five” Olsen gives a nod to Hank Williams' “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry” but rather than employ the obvious (and over done) sob story she comes out sounding more like a scuzzy Roy Orbison. Again on “High & Wild” Olsen is inquisitive and uncertain but there is a tinge of psychedelia and wordplay that evokes Bob Dylan's patronizing placations on Blonde On Blonde.

 

As you near the end of Burn Your Fire Olsen has offered just enough optimism to keep things afloat. Her scattered thoughts meet at “Enemy” and finally sort themselves into a somber reflection, that at times sounds as if direct dialogue from a couple's therapy session. “Enemy” finds Olsen tired and naked before us, admitting defeat while approaching optimism carefully she sings: “I'm lighter on my feet when I've left some things behind”. The album could end here and not loose any of it's impact but rather than leave it up to the listener Olsen delivers one of the most powerful and life affirming songs in the singer-songwriter cannon. “Windows” is Olsen admitting what throughout the album she could not; that she alone was preventing herself from moving on and being happy. The blame no longer belongs to an ex-lover and as she sings “What's so wrong with the light? we come to understand that she has decided to take the opportunity to evolve. 

 

Angel Olsen will be playing at Revelry Music & Arts Festival in Madison, WI  May 3rd