For some studio albums, you can usually count on just a few memorable, single-worthy hit tracks with the rest either being slower-than-you-can-bear ballads or just being a little meh in comparison to the ones you end up playing out to your heart’s content. Yet when it comes to Angel Olsen’s My Woman, I personally cannot point out a single track I’d consider to be average. Each of these songs hold up amazingly well on their own merits like a string of hit singles off a best-of compilation album – which, I have to admit, comes as a bit of a surprise to me as I wasn’t entirely a fan of all the tracks on Burn Your Fire For No Witness nor did I even feel the same way about Halfway Home. Past records seem to overpower the vocals with acoustic melodies and fuzz to the point of sounding a bit too muffled. I have my old favorites that I do go back to – like “Lights Out”, “Forgiven/Forgotten”, and “Acrobat”. However, the instrumentals here is just so spacious and accommodating, allowing for more polished harmonies without straying too far from Olsen’s country crooner, lo-fi beginnings.
Similar to the likes of Laura Veirs and Fiona Apple, Olsen’s records typically evokes a sense of defiant, self-resilience in the face of pain, sadness, and yearning. She takes the inside-my-own-head, Garden State mentality of the lovesick and honors the romantic sensation of discovering love – as well as the grief of having to watch that love wither and die. My Woman is the hate-love letter you wish you had written to your worst exes. It’s about longing for a person who doesn’t need you anymore. Like a freeze-frame on those mystifying, shameful moments when you begin to realize you’re more in love with the idea of being in love with a person who doesn’t love you anyway.
The record opens as if it were a synth album with a shimmering, Lana Del Reyish pop track called “Intern” that hauntingly foreshadows the sentiments ultimately expressed on the album – “I’m gonna fall in love and run away”. The rest of the song is about having to get up and “be someone” for either an occupation, friends and family, or a love interest. It’s about going through the motions despite the fact such efforts will eventually break you down you in some way or another. “Can’t help feeling the way that I do/Become a prophet/Become a fool”, Olsen softly sings in “Not Gonna Kill You” before succumbing to dangerous self-declarations – “It’s not gonna kill you/It’s not gonna kill you” – in a manner that vocally transports you back to the intoxicating “Arabian Knights” of the early 80’s.
Throughout the rest of the record, Olsen continues to belt out seemingly improvised croons that flickers and fades in unexpected places, such as in “Sister”. As one of the longer tracks off the album, the transitions between the melodies of the verse and the chorus don’t really exist – which seems to be a common feature of songs that venture past the seven-minute mark. Soon as she gets to “I want to know you”, it opens a parallel dimension to a whole new way of feeling that is pleasantly warm and natural. Then we get to “All my life I thought I’d change” which yet again sounds like a completely different song straight out of the Stevie Nicks songbook.
“Shut Up Kiss Me” is one of the more punchy and simply-composed songs that also speaks to the fantasy of head-rush ecstasy when fighting for fleeting love. It’s the second single that follows “Intern”, and further expands the central narrative: the tumultuous breakup, the impossible attempts to expressing/communicating one’s side, and the desperate need for cheap affection in the aftermath despite all the trappings that comes with it. Like Lana Del Rey, Angel Olsen has long been depicted as some sort of Sad Girl caricature with her at times icy vocals, doom-and-gloom lyrics, and Velvet Underground aesthetic. While you do get some of that here on My Woman, there’s more hope than mere heartbreak. Angel Olsen skillfully balances the album between her bullish lyrics and heart-pounding riffs in a way that makes the album feel short and sweet partially due to its breezy, 60’s Southern California flair.