Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness
If you’ve heard Angel Olsen before then you’re one of the few outside the US that have stumbled over her acoustic debut Half Way Home, a collection of stark, contemplative songs that the Missouri native released on an indie label in 2012. Or you might recognise her distinctive voice from her collaborations with Bonnie Prince Billy. But if you have heard of her before, you probably aren’t expecting Burn Your Fire For No Witness, her visceral second album.
Recorded in just over a week with a rhythm section (bass and drums) to add depth to her sound, it continues to explore themes of loss, loneliness and belonging, mixing the space from her debut record with a new sense of lo-fi drama - think Waxahatchee but more focused and refined. The opening line of the album (“I quit my dreaming the moment that I found you”) is a neat subversion of the feel of the next 45 minutes, which at times makes you think you're placed into someone else’s dream.
Starting with two minutes of grainy acoustic guitar and echoey vocals on a track called ‘Unfucktheworld’ is certainly a little different, and disorienting. Following it up with the heavy grunge of ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’, it grabs you by the neck and doesn’t let you go for the next forty minutes. (And that includes the Suede-like nineties indie of ‘Lights Out’ and the wall of noise that ‘Stars’ builds to an end with.)
When she’s not surprising with that wall of sound, she’s reminding us of her roots: the contemplative, seven minute ‘White Fire’, with its slightly detached vocals and reverb-laden acoustic guitar, or ‘Enemy’’s stark vocals and repeated, restrained acoustic refrain. Lacking a chorus, it’s as though Olsen is just telling the story of a past relationship direct.
The skill on show here is to make something personal and intimate into something accessible and exciting. So often these kinds of records end up too introspective and just plain lacking decent tunes; this isn’t a mistake that Angel Olsen has made. Burn Your Fire For No Witness may have tough relationships and a sense of displacement at its core but it’s also stacked full of melodies (and cracking basslines). Immediately rewarding, but with a depth that will keep you coming back for more.