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10th February 2014

Album: Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Angel Olsen’s power lies in her beautifully idiosyncratic voice

Released 18th February, 2014



While there’s certainly no shortage of American, folk-oriented singer-songwriters these days, Angel Olsen manages to stand out from the crowd. Along with Joanna Newsom and Marissa Nadler, she offers an original take on a familiar sound and, like those two, her power lies in her beautifully idiosyncratic voice. Olsen’s acrobatic vocals present an incredible range of timbres, moving from a gentle keen, to a Patsy Cline-esque yodel, to a dramatic howl that sounds like a distant call to prayer from a minaret.

Her first full-length album, 2012’s Half Way Home, marked a significant progression from the previous year’s Strange Cacti EP, as Olsen discarded the lo-fi, reverb-soaked sound of that release, embellishing her songs with a backing band and bringing her mournful vocals to the fore. With her new LP, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, Olsen has refined and developed the sound of her first two records.

The album sees a remarkable widening of the sonic palette. The second song, ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’, is a grunge-influenced track that recalls early PJ Harvey and is Olsen’s heaviest to date. Fast-paced and driven by distorted chords, the song climaxes with the anguished cry of an electric guitar, reminiscent of the Pixies’ Joey Santiago, and a whirlwind of distortion surrounding Olsen’s tormented vocals. The next track, ‘Hi-Five’, a triumphant ode to loneliness, similarly showcases a newfound sense of aggression, ending with a swell of feedback.

However, the record is most moving when Olsen returns to the skeletal sound of her earlier material. This is seen with the stripped-down opening song, ‘Unfucktheworld’, and the acoustic offering, ‘Enemy’. But the album’s standout moment is ‘White Fire’, a delicate, finger-picked dirge, over which Olsen whispers a fatalistic tale of isolation.

While the album stutters somewhat towards the middle – ‘Lights Out’ is a little melodramatic, getting dangerously close to power ballad territory – Burn Your Fire for No Witness is still a success. Olsen has progressed, creating a more expansive sound, while retaining the intimate, funereal atmosphere that makes her music so stunningly heartrending.

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