Archive for September, 2016


This article first appeared at No Ripcord on September 12, 2016.

angel-olsen-my-woman-album

The story of My Woman is exactly as it says on the tin. Angel Olsen’s third album has been self-described as “the complicated mess of being a woman.” To tackle this immense topic, Olsen’s expanded her sound, fusing a late 60s/early 70s rock vibe to the alternative folk of Burn Your Fire for No Witness.

Opener Intern instantly stands out, its slow-pulsing synth right out of Twin Peaks. Olsen’s voice matches the low-key vibe, resigned to going through the motions in work and in love. “Falling in love and I swear it’s the last time,” she sings breathlessly, the lyric’s determination undercut by her passivity.

Of course, thinking about falling in love is a detached viewpoint. Once you are in the relationship, your perspective shifts. So does Olsen, tackling the ever-changing nature of such a commitment. Never Be Mine is pining, with the light fuzz of an electric guitar and tumbling drum rolls. Shut Up Kiss Me reinforces its rocking, commanding chorus with rapid guitar strums. “We could end all this pain right here/We could rewind all of those tears,” Olsen sings, backing up her words with a sharp and sly guitar solo.

As people have different life experiences, their priorities may change and relationships may drift. Olsen captures this in Heart Shaped Face, questioning if her love saw her for her, “Or was it your mother?/Or was it your shelter?/Or was it another/With a heart shaped face.” Such a change is rarely smooth and Olsen’s anger comes across in Not Gonna Kill You. The rage builds over a dry guitar hook with each verse until it bursts from her with a burning solo and a shout. Give It Up tries to get a similarly wounded feeling across, but the music fails to deliver.

The two longest pieces on My Woman are by far the most introspective and magnificent. Sister is a dusty number that unfurls into an epic  of self-discovery, through the device of talking to an imaginary sibling. “Live it through your eyes/Piece us together/Know that this wild road/Will go on forever.” It ends with a killer repeated line, “All my life I thought I’d change,” interspersed with a pure 70s guitar hero solo and backing church choir vocals. Woman brings back the soundtrack style synths, like a blanket of clouds over vibrating guitar chords and a nimble bass. “Tell me that love isn’t true/I dare you to understand/What makes me a woman,” Olsen sings, belting out the last word in a cathartic release.

The piano ballad of Pops ends the record as it started, with lo-fi vocals that accept Olsen’s relationship is over. It returns her to the resignation of Intern, now tinged with heartbreak. It’s a beautiful, somber end to an emotional whirlwind of an album.

What makes My Woman great isn’t the new synths or the rockier tone. It’s Olsen herself, filling these songs with the love, desire, anguish and acceptance that comes from her perspective as a woman. While it’s easier to sing about being in love or falling out of love, Olsen is wise enough to see the long game. She knows that change is a part of life, whether it’s in the work you do, the people you love or the person you become.

8/10

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on August 22, 2016.

church

Kelsey Lu’s Church is as direct an opening statement as you will get this year. The cellist’s debut is sparse in all the right ways, putting the focus on her voice, her playing and her lyrics. In lesser hands, this could be problematic as it’s much easier for cracks to stand out. But on Church, Lu handles all three of those segments so powerfully and passionately that you can only listen in awe.

Nowhere is her talent put on display as much as on Dreams. It opens the record with a beautiful slow burn of discordant notes, expansive, mysterious and jagged all at once. If nature had an orchestra, this intro would be its tune-up. It could also be the start of a vivid dream, in the way that it shimmers out-of-focus, but is bright and singular enough to get the message across. And this is all before Lu even starts plucking her cello strings and unveils her gorgeous, haunting wail. “I know you’re no good boy, I can’t get enough of you,” she sings, her dreams offering her no reprieve for her longing.

Lu’s voice not only has jaw-dropping levels of depth and range (see the near glass-shattering pitches of Morning After Coffee), but is filled with pathos, making you feel every note. On Empathy, Lu sings about a broken relationship, only to deliver the simple-in-concept but difficult-in-practice line: “Empathy is what I need. Empathy is what you need.” The forlorn, cutting strings follow up to bold-face this proclamation. Time also explores the sparks and burns of love, as Lu expresses a sensation of freedom from waiting around for another to love her back. The strings, somber and sad, weave through a bubbling percussive soundscape, like a fish cutting through water.

The beauty of Dreams is only matched by the closing sprawl of Liar. Opening with a burst of harp, the melody retreats to its barest form, to put all the attention of Lu’s otherworldly vocals. “I’d be lying if I said I was okay, cause I’m not,” she sings, her voice fragile but forcing the notes out. This isn’t a song Lu wants to sing, but needs to sing. The same can be said for her breathless cello solo that surges at the end, only to fade back into nature.

As talented as Lu is, it’s her passion and emotions that make virtually every song on Church connect. Besides the fact that it was recorded at a church, the title works as this is a spiritual awakening for Lu that we’re lucky enough to have witnessed. Now that she’s woken from her dreams, there’s no telling where she’ll take us next.

8/10