My Woman teaches us how to let go
On “Intern”, the opening track of Angel Olsen’s third studio album titled My Woman (via Jagjaguwar Records), she intones in an ethereal voice, “Everyone I know has got their own ideal / I just want to be alive, make something real / Doesn’t matter who you are or what you do / Something in the work will make a fool of you”. The passionate, almost myopic pursuit of individuality is a prominent feature in her music. It’s a trait which is reflected in both her idiosyncratic singing style and her lyrics, which evoke vulnerability as frequently as resilience. Her strength comes from her willingness to explore the pain of heartache rather than shy away from it, and over the course of 10 songs she shows that her investigations of the heart have lead her to a place of greater security. My Woman is also her best album to date.
Olsen’s greatest attribute is her voice. It’s a highly developed instrument of incredible range and emotive force, capable of bending in ways that were hinted at on earlier releases. The album’s first half is filled with tracks which suggest – but never reach – it’s high octane potential. On “Shut Up Kiss Me”, the most energetic song on the album, she allows it to careen from a wail to a growl and back again, performing sonic pyrotechnics while being torn back and forth between holding on to love and allowing herself to move on. Most songs on the album deal with this same struggle, and a superficial glance would perhaps conclude that this is an album for wallowers. However, buried in each lovesick track she makes sure to leave room for growth. “Shut Up Kiss Me” ends it’s final verse with the lines, “It’s all over baby but I’m still young / I’m still young”.
The album’s second half is more calm than the first and contains some of the most meditative music Olsen has ever produced. Track lengths increase, the mood dampens, and there are wonderful moments of scattered psychedelia. As the instrumentation becomes sparse she allows her voice to simmer, brooding over phrases that she would have powered through on earlier songs – on “Woman” she sings, “I dare you to understand / What makes me a woman / What makes me a woman / What makes me a woman”. The change of pace seem to suggest some sort of revelation; the churning heartache of the first half is substituted for reflection and observation.
Angel Olsen has improved with each release: My Woman demonstrates a musician who has unlocked the art of restraint. Her measured approach gives her room to investigate the nuances of love and relationships in a way that an artist, more anxious to impress, would be unable to. One can only imagine how she will grow from here.