I remember first hearing about Angel Olsen a few years back. This was back in late 2009, when Olsen had yet to release any of her records. It was a brief mention of the young singer-songwriter by the local alternative newspaper about how Olsen, who grew up in the St Louis area and had just moved to Chicago, was performing a few of her songs for KDHX, the local St Louis public radio station. (You can still find a video of the performance here). I remember thinking I was really intrigued by what I heard and more than a little bummed that St Louis wasn’t able to nurture a promising artist such as Olsen that she had to move to Chicago.
Cut to a few years later in 2012 when Olsen released her debut full length record, Half Way Home. And that’s when I started really paying attention. Olsen has this cracked and soft mournful voice that has an ability to devastate your soul. Over spare guitar strums and rudimentary drums, Olsen sings about death and finality that just fits perfectly with her voice. Half Way Home is a wonderful record that was one of my favorites in 2012. In my review of it, I warned of ignoring Angel Olsen at your own risk, for I know great things are about to come for her.
Well that time to come is now. Olsen is set to release her sophomore record, Burn Your Fire For No Witness and everything is bigger now. Besides signing to a major indie label with Jagjaguwar and working with producer John Congleton, Olsen has also expanded her band lineup from one to three, which now includes a bass player and drum player. The translated bigger sound seems like the perfect fit for Olsen as they now serve to expand the heartbreak she expresses. Amazingly, the intimacy of her songs is never lost as the songs of Burn Your Fire are just as haunting and personal as they were in Half Way Home. The record translates spareness into space. And it is filled with wonderful juxtopations of melancholy and empathy such as when Olsen sings in her wonderful single Hi-Five, “Are you lonely too? Hi five! So am I!“.
Burn Your Fire For No Witness is the first record of 2014 that I can easily say will be one of my favorites when the year ends. This is a beautiful record that is as great as it is delicate – one that will accompany you in your loneliness and see you through it.
Angel Olsen is coming to St Louis. She will be playing at Off Broadway on 4/27 (tickets here)
Watch the video for Hi-Five embedded below.
Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness comes out 2/18 via Jagjaguwar (order here)