The switch from acoustic to electric for Angel Olsen in her new album Burn Your Fire For No Witness has brought with it a defiance that screams to be heard. In an interview earlier this year, she said, ‘I’ve always been pretty stubborn about what I want.’
What she wants, it turns out, is to ramp up the volume and the intensity, letting the melancholy of the lyrics fall through. And the results don’t disappoint. Since her previous album, Half Way Home, Olsen has acquired a band, and the resultant switch of genre to something more resembling light grunge means her voice is louder, and more compelling.
Single ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’ can’t make its mind up, but not in a bad way. Out of all the songs, it is the brashest, boldest sound produced on the album, and yet with the lyrics ‘I’ve made up my mind, I’ve wasted my time, I don’t know anything…. But I love you’, you see an indecisive pain that shows the song to be a kind of wounded inner monologue.
‘High and Wild’, on the other hand, knows exactly what it’s talking about. The crescendo to the biting lyric, ‘You might as well be blind, you might as well be blind because you don’t see me anymore’, needs no explanation. The instrumentation here always threatening to spill over into chaos but never quite breaking its banks.
Simplicity reigns supreme, so we instinctively tune in to the lyrics, Olsen’s strongest suit. On ‘White Fire’, a dark, slow ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Leonard Cohen set, you are presented with a deep tale of lost youth and life, with the emotion in Olsen’s voice subtle but also incredibly clear. The first line, ‘Everything is tragic, it all just falls apart’, is sung by Olsen in a totally different tone to the rest of the song, seemingly mocking ‘the world today’ songs written in a similar style to hers. Quickly though it becomes more, as she looks back to a time when we were ‘fierce and light and young’.
Olsen’s vocals can shift from soft to striking very quickly, and Burn Your Fire For No Witness has plenty of call for that, as anger and grief are held in equal balance. In doing that, Angel Olsen constantly has her listeners strongly within her grasp.By Laurence Morgan