Those who have followed the blog since its start know I’m a sucker for lo-fi, minimalist, voice-driven stuff. Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness is an impressive sophomore album by the St. Louis, Missouri songstress, after the less flashy and definitely less cohesive Half Way Home. It just has something else this time around – like the artist finally stopped being subdued and showed her true, raw colors.
Olsen is most of all a singer – she has, in the past, toured as a back-up singer for Bonnie “Prince” Billy and has collaborated in the same vein with American indie rock greats Tim Kinsella, of Cap’n Jazz fame, and LeRoy Bach, of Wilco fame. This shows all throughout the record, with the guitar usually a background figure to the sweet, soothing voice that could be telling you about the most horrendous things that have happened to humanity and would still manage to feel just as homely and breathtaking.
The register changes a lot, from breathy, drony acoustic guitar and voice combos reminiscent of Sibylle Baier – the resemblance is uncanny in White Fire and other tracks – and Grouper to poppy, rock’n’roll-fueled, full-band and slightly more upbeat songs like Forgiven/Forgotten, unlike the lyrical theme: it seems to usually center on love or the absence of it.
One comparison I hesitated to make is to country music – not because of its merit as a genre, since I do not believe there are genres that have no redeeming qualities at all, but because it feels detached from the usual clichés: banjos, fiddles, harmonicas, etc. What’s really the driving force is the perceived honesty of it all delivered through Olsen’s incredible voice that just feels incredibly timeless and personal.
The album itself is a great experience but I cannot abstain from mentioning the incredible live performances that have originated from it, like for personal favorite Enemy, whose atmosphere and quietness is just palpable even from the screen of a computer and the degrading, tinny characteristics of some cheap earphones. Breathtaking is the right word for it and the album sky-rocketed Angel Olsen as a must-watch whenever I get the chance. Until then, I have to wait with the rest of Portugal.