Going by her previous work, nobody could accuse Angel Olsen of being a stranger to despondence, but while many of her songs have centred around reflecting on personal troubles, they’ve usually taken the rear-view perspective of someone who’s overcome difficulty to emerge on the other side. Now, on My Woman, her gaze drifts forwards to the road ahead.
As well as being an accomplished structural and sonic departure for Olsen, her new release is a paean to human endurance. Synth-laden opener Intern sets the stage by describing a rut of ennui that she’s determined to escape: “Pick up the phone, but I swear it’s the last time”. Call-centre employees may identify. All through the album, people find various ways to persevere: as well as determination, there’s persistence, optimism, wilful ignorance and, above all, hope. None of the songs feel particularly sunny (except, perhaps, the doggedness of the snubbed lover on Shut Up Kiss Me), but they’re all life-affirming to some degree.
Olsen explores this broad theme across a more diverse range of styles, too. The aforementioned synth elements are one component of a fuller sounding backing band than she’s had previously, with even the consistently mellow groove on the seven-minute Woman punctuated by some outspoken guitar bursts. The relative lack of emphasis on Olsen’s still-compelling vocals is one of the album’s more surprising pleasures.
Her greatest asset, though, remains the indomitable spirit of her musical persona. Heartbreak and loss aren’t exactly uncommon subject matter, but her fortitude in the face of them is marvellous to behold. “I want to live life/I want to die right”, she sings on Sister, somehow opting for the bright side even in fatalism. Olsen proves it’s hard to keep a good woman down.
Like this? Try these:
Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Miya Folick – Strange Darling
Frog Eyes – Pickpocket’s Locket
Words: Leo Devlin