Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
by Anu Gulati (Computer Science/Math), published September 6th 2016
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
In a 2015 interview with Buzzfeed, actress and activist Viola Davis said to young women everywhere, “Do not live someone else’s life and someone else’s idea of what womanhood is… Womanhood is everything that’s inside of you.” As much as Davis’s words sound like a preach of common sense, 2016 has brought challenges to womanhood from even esteemed feminists like Gloria Steinem or Madeleine Albright, who have commented that American women not supporting Hillary Clinton are trying to impress boys, or simply going to “a special place in Hell.” The irony of it all is truly head-spinning.
But 2016 has also had a stunning awakening of womanhood in music. There’s been transgender pioneer Anohni’s Hopelessness, Asian-American Mitski’s Puberty 2, and now Angel Olsen’s MY WOMAN, a powerful third LP for the already established indie singer that most importantly includes the word “My” right there in the title. When asked about the title in an interview with FADER magazine, Olsen said,“it’s not just about the complicated mess of being a woman, it’s [about] addressing that, because for the first time I’m not afraid to just really literally address it. It’s about fucking time.”
Her response connotes aggression- an urgency to really, actually be heard this time. In her earlier albums like Half Way Home, she followed the sparse and lonely folk tradition of Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, and Elliott Smith with prowess. MY WOMAN blows Olsen’s other records out of the water for being so unapologetically her, like when she cracks her voice demanding, “Shut up, kiss me, hold me tight!” on the dizzying blitz that is “Shut Up Kiss Me.” Although she mastered the unadorned indie folk in 2014’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness, never has she sounded so full. Songs like “Shut Up Kiss Me” or “Never Be Mine” ring with reverb and trail into grand guitar solos, and I never used to think I could head-bang to Olsen’s music before.
MY WOMAN offers a different Angel Olsen at every chord change; she bellows with newfound clarity on starry synth-filled “Intern” and whispers with regret at the end of “Sister.” Each track contains self-discoveries that reflect the limitless womanhood of Angel Olsen, who’s always been unafraid to shed personal barriers for gut-wrenching lyrics against submerging guitar tones. Her new wailing voice in flooded reverb on “Never Be Mine” is reminiscent of Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino, whose emotional straightforwardness is a wise influence for Olsen. Also a noticeable influence on MY WOMAN is Kurt Cobain, whose ferocious rasp Olsen matches on “Not Going To Kill You” with shifty lyrics that reflect her ongoing struggles as a lover (“A love that never seems to curse or to confine / Will be forever never lost or too defined … / That is the kind of love I’d always dreamed to be”).
Boldly released as a single, the almost 8-minute “Sister” is a unique meditation for Olsen where she imagines what she would say or teach to a sister about life. The Americana progression on “Sister” allows her to slowly open up about being adopted and wishing she could change instead of focusing on negative aspects of her life. The lyrics are honest and wholly related to Olsen and her struggles as not just a woman, but simply as herself. Olsen is a lover, a wanter, an imaginary sister, a shelter, and a singer/songwriter that downright refuses to put up with anyone who challenges her womanhood. In standout track “Woman,” she belts with so much might: “I dare you to understand what makes me a woman.” She wanted our attention – it’s about time she got it.