Writing about certain artists can fall into an unfortunate pattern of listing influences, trying to explain what something sounds like with a barrage of reference points. Angel Olsen's fourth record My Woman sounds like Neil Young, Roy Orbison, Leonard Cohen, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Buddy Holly, The Byrds, Fleetwood Mac, Emmylou Harris and arguably many more, but with that out of the way we can discuss Angel Olsen, who with this spectacular album is fully inhabiting the enormous star power that she's always had up her sleeve.
My Woman refines and expands on the incandescent country- and folk-influenced rock of her last album, 2014's Burn Your Fire for No Witness, itself a surprise after the spare and haunting Half Way Home in 2012. Writing about the latter album, I described Olsen's music as quivering "like a prairie campfire," but on her latest record, she is more akin to the wind making it quiver. Olsen's personality on record is a force of nature.
Second single "Shut Up Kiss Me," is emblematic of Olsen's incredible forcefulness. She takes a swooningly romantic gesture ("Shut up and kiss me!") and turns it into a command. The country-influenced rock song has sparkle and swagger - Olsen's infatuation manifests as infectious determination. Appropriately, in the song's video, Olsen donned a playful wig of silver tinsel, which also made an appearance in the video for the first single "Intern," a song that is almost a polar opposite, but which contains in its starry synths and sensual vocal the same love-kissed glow.
My Woman trades in contradictions, with Olsen's personality - insightful, perceptive, inquisitive - acting as an anchor. Moments of hesitancy, like the wistful, jangly "Never Be Mine," are sandwiched between the aforementioned moments where Olsen's voice breaks and hiccups expressively with barely restrained excitement. The half-lit slow dance "Heart-Shaped Face," segues into a second half that is more reflective and meditative, but no less powerful.
Many artists have attempted to sound like Stevie Nicks, but the nearly-eight-minute evocation of feminine companionship "Sister" taps into Nicks' indefinable mystique without even trying. The slow-burning track is capped off with splatters of electric guitar that sound like an extension of Olsen's nimble, inimitable vocals. Across the tight and absorbing collection of songs, Olsen's performance changes and adapts spectacularly. She can morph between an all-out cry and a whisper at will.
The record reaches an emotional apex with the simultaneously spacious and searing "Woman," which floats for over seven minutes on a miasma of distant keys. "I dare you to understand what makes me a woman," she sings, the hurt in her voice mirroring the raucousness that marked the album's first half. But throughout My Woman, despite ups and downs, wins and losses, Angel Olsen never loses sight of herself. "I'll be thing that lives in the dream when it's gone," she sings on the sparse, haunting "Pops," which closes the album.
After everything, without anyone else, Angel Olsen is still her own woman.
My Woman is out now on CD, vinyl and digital formats. Angel Olsen is performing at the Sydney Opera House on December 5th, and also at Fairgrounds Festival at Berry, which takes place on December 2nd and 3rd.