MUSIC REVIEW | Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness (2014)


Who is Angel Olsen? What sort of music does she play? Does she have a hook for a hand? Buggers me. But enough critics on websites I like seem to like her. So I’m willing to give her a bash too, with Burn Your Fire for No Witness.

Well, what she lacks in subtly in the title of Unfucktheworld, she makes up for on lo-fi, folk passion. If only I liked lo-fi folk. But, I don’t, thus making Unfucktheworld an extremely painful two minutes and five seconds. Hey, Angel, strum you guitar like you mean it!

Like you do in Forgiven/Forgotten. Now this is more like it. Sure, there’s a drum kit, bass, electric guitars and her vocals are little louder, but that’s not what makes this such a better song than its predecessor. You can hear Olsen giving much more of a shit here, and that really counts for something. Which is strange, since lyrically, this sounds like more of simple girl-likes-boy song. Actually, I kind of like that she gets more fired up for this than whatever world changing crap that Unfucktheworld was (presumably) banging on about.

Why couldn’t Burn Your Fire for No Witness have ditched its first song and started one track later? Because the triple threat of Forgive/Forgotten, Hi-Five and White Fire makes me think there isn’t much Olsen can’t do with the simplest of tools at her disposal.

Baisc, lo-fi and minimalistic, she manages to make three completely different songs, convey three completely different ranges of feeling, set three completely different moods, all while changing little more than tempo and the emotion behind the vocals. And while pushing seven minutes would usually seem indulgent and unnecessary, the haunting quality of Olsen’s voice on White Fire makes it the kind of song that could play on a loop forever, and you might not ever notice. You also might go slowly insane, but at least it would be an enjoyable descent into madness.

Luckily, High & Wild is there to pull you out of the abyss of your own mind and take you on a trippy ride that will eventually get you back to reality. But you’ll have a few hallucinations first. This is the kind of song a movie would use during a mind expanding acid trip scene, when a character is realising they’re one with the universe, and the universe is one with them.

Too bad Burn Your Fire winds down with a rehashing everything I hated about its first two minutes. Dance Slow Decades, Enemy and Windows return to the aimlessness, and even double down by adding a sad, wet warble to Olsen’s vocal delivery.

I liked Burn Your Fire for No Witness. I liked large chunks of it a lot. But I can’t hear what would have landed it the top of so many critical lists as one of 2014’s best. The songs are more than solid, Angel Olsen definitely has a unique sound that’s all her own, and I’m sure I’ll listen to it again, at some stage. But it’s not the kind of album I’ll be forcing on friends.

Still not sure if she has a hook for a hand or not though.

Angel Olsen

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