angel olsen burn your fire for no witness half way home singer songwriter

Angel Olsen

angel olsen burn your fire for no witness half way home singer songwriter

Sometime in 2012 I heard an an album called Half Way Home by Angel Olsen.  It was not the most amazing thing I had ever heard but I couldn’t stop listening to it – I was compelled by the clear authenticity in her delivery and lyrics.  The St. Louis-raised singer/songwriter’s music was clearly inspired by country and folk/singer-songwriter conventions – especially evident in Ms Olsen’s soaring and sincere Patsy Cline-like vocals – and I was reminded of ’90s female acts; PJ Harvey’s early work, Kristin Hersch, Cat Power. ( In this time I also learned that Ms. Olsen has played guitar with Will Oldham in the past so I was even more intrigued.)  For those like myself who are not constantly looking for the “new thing”, I was not the least bit bothered by these associations, as some of my favorite music is not exceptionally “original” in its sound.  What pulls me in instead is the artist’s willingness to lay themselves bare for listeners, to create their art for the sheer purpose of expressing themselves and to be unflinching in their self-exploration and unafraid to share what they find.  Angel Olsen creates music that fits nicely in this traditional of honest singer-songwriters (I believe critics used to describe it as “confessional”) and on her latest album Burn Your Fire For No Witness (out on Jagjaguwar Records) she beefs up her sound a bit with some distortion and a full band on many of the tracks.  Ms. Olsen’s band and fuller sound are well-suited for these songs , but she never forgets the power of restraint and two of my favorite tracks on the album – the opener “Unfucktheworld” and 7-minute centerpiece “White Fire” – are somber guitar-and-voice affairs that allow Olsen’s haunting voice to take center stage, making lines like “Everything is tragic/It all just falls apart” and “I laughed so loud inside myself it all began to hurt” resonate with a power that even the pounding drums and distorted guitars on the album’s other tracks cannot drown out. By the end of Burn Your Fire I felt the humbling feeling that I often feel when a new friend opens up to me for the first time, the feeling that I had enjoyed her previous work but at this point in time Ms Olsen was sharing something with me (with everyone) and that she didn’t particularly care if we “enjoyed” it or not. I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, though, since the LP’s title offers some seriously profound wisdom that seems to be a battle cry of its creator just as much as a bit of wisdom for the rest of us to follow.
If you are a fan of Joanna Newsom, Waxahatchee, Marissa Nadler, Julia Holter, Sharon van Etten, or any of the ladies mentioned above, give Angel Olsen a shot.
Below you will find a solo NPR Tiny Desk Concert and a couple videos.  I hope you like what you hear.

http://youtu.be/PinTAGbIsV4

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