This LP, for this reviewer’s money, is of exceptional quality: lyrically and musically.
“Burn Your Fire for No Witness” marks something of a departure from her 2012 full-length debut, Half Way Home, and an even greater deviation from the marker she threw down in her 2011 break-out EP Strange Cacti.
Both of those releases were distinguished by Olsen’s most enduring qualities: stark honest writing coupled with rich siren-like vocals. The addition of a backing band and the prominence of grunge-era electric guitars buzzing in slacker elegance throughout much of this album, does little to change that.
What we have here is a collection of eleven beautifully crafted songs in equally simple but refreshingly effective arrangements: some of them are quiet, others are audibly much louder than what we’re used to when it comes to Angel Olsen.
What both these kinds of song manage to do is provoke and excite as well as humble in equal measure (“Hi-Five” and “Iota” spring to mind immediately), as Olsen has always done.
“Burn Your Fire for No Witness”, from a lyrical standpoint, is somewhat less opaque than any of Olsen’s previous work.
No one could accuse Olsen of being prescriptive in her approach to song-writing: her’s is wildly cosmic but ultimately very visceral – real.
Many of the songs on this LP deal with loneliness and estrangement within relationships and love more generally. Compared with her previous work, Olsen is evidently more confessional and frank in her writing.
“Unfucktheworld” is one such example of this and shows Angel Olsen at her very (usual) best. The album opener is a track that would not sound out of place on any of her previous work, but with the addition of John Congelton to this project is quite telling here: Olsen’s voice is almost a dull hum throughout, as if played through a tube amplifier. The effect is hauntingly beautiful.
All things considered, the opener here is Olsen’s default setting: voice and acoustic guitar draped in wet reverb driven by frank riveting lyrics. The real treats on this album come later in the shape of ‘new’ tracks – the raucous, sultry and louder numbers – “Forgiven/Forgotten”, “Hi-Five” and “Lights Out”.
As far as sophomore albums go, this is impressive. If this marks a change – a new direction – it is a positive one. As Angel Olsen’s overall sound evolves so too will her appeal widen, and that for me is no bad thing. On the strength of this album’s lyrics alone Olsen’s career should reach the cosmically spectral heights that bely her general ethereal aesthetic. Her voice may not be for everybody, but as a work of art this album has to be admired for its frankness and bravery.