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Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Angel Olsen is living proof that it needn’t take much to make a big impression. On her debut full-length Half Way Home, she entranced listeners with a collection of fragile, mostly acoustic folk ballads, sung as though to herself at night on the front porch of her childhood home in St. Louis; only occasionally did she raise her voice above a near-whisper, and it was these quiet, controlled explosions – her dry, cracked croon suddenly catching fire and curling up into the sky like smoke – that saw smitten critics likening her curious mix of calculated cool and quirky charm to artists as seemingly diverse as Connie Francis and Joanna Newsom. Such moments are more common on Olsen’s sophomore album Burn Your Fire For No Witness, but familiarity does nothing to lessen the impact. Compared with its sparse, spectral predecessor, this is a testy she-wolf of a record, Olsen baring her fangs between strained smiles on grunge-coated rocker “Forgiven/ Forgotten” and imagining herself as some kind of elemental goddess “singing the stars back into the universe’ (“Stars”), her new band – Stewart Bronaugh on bass and drummer Josh Jaeger – and producer John Congleton the perfect creative foils, adding depth and texture without drawing attention away from the real star of the show. And what a star Olsen proves to be: on “Hi Five” she’s the cool girl at the barn dance, shimmying to countrified glam pop with a beer in her hand, oblivious to the drooling cowboys sniffing at her heels whilst “High & Wild” finds her later that same evening, emboldened by booze, taking the stage and winning over the ladies too with an impassioned turn that bounces from Emmylou to Sandy Denny to Polly Jean and back again. In this kind of company, the small handful of songs that revisit Long Way Home‘s hushed, intimate sound – “Enemy”, “Dance Slow Decades”, Cohen-esque dirge “White Fire” – are almost startling in their skeletal simplicity, Olsen apparently exerting less effort than it takes to speak in order to create music of almost overwhelming intensity, and it’s this balance of rockers and ballads that makes Burn Your Fire so powerful, and Olsen such a rarity: an album that will break your heart and warm your soul, and an artist that makes both seem as easy as breathing.
Burn Your Fire For No Witness is out February 18 on Jagjaguwar; check out the video for “Hi Five” below, and stream the album in full via NPR.


About foamhands

My name is Michael Dix; I'm a decade or so past being down with the kids, but to me new music never gets old. Apparently I like music that sounds like faulty kitchen appliances and ritual slaughter; really I just like what I like, whether that happens to be indie, pop, punk, hip hop, metal, electronica, Afrobeat or jazz. Follow me on Twitter @FoamHandsBlog to receive notifications of new posts and the occasional random brain-fart, and please share links wherever you can. Enjoy!

One response to “Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire For No Witness

  1. Pingback: #NewMusicTuesday – February 18th | Music Streetlight

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