Angel Olsen’s ‘MY WOMAN’ sings to the sophomore slump

Indie-head sweetheart, Angel Olsen, comes back with a shockingly refined release, “MY WOMAN.”

Coming off of a characteristically lo-fi, self-built career, Olsen’s sound is baptized in optimizers and twangy guitar successions, and reborn as a true blue rock outfit.

A stark contrast to her 2014 release, “Burn Your Fire For No Witness”  — although stark might be hyperbole — Olsen sets herself apart from the bedroom GarageBand dreamers and becomes someone who could sell out a venue in Brooklyn with ease.

Angel Olsen
Photo courtesy of Jagjaguwar

Joined by a full studio band, the tracks on “MY WOMAN” focus on the subjects of love and pain, contemplating life and the futility of love.

She uses emotion and, at times, desperately-reaching vocals to drive home the anguish. But, even in the darkness, Olsen finds mantras of strength. In the song “Not Gonna Kill You,” she reassures herself in the bridge, “It’s not gonna break you, it’s just gonna shake you.”

The opening track, “Intern,” is as far away from rock as this album gets, with 80s pads, dreamy synth fills and ambient vocals.

To be honest, it could be my favorite track, relating love to an internship: “I don’t care what the papers say, it’s just another intern with a resume / I’m gonna fall in love with you someday.”

As a folk-rock singer, Olsen does astoundingly well with using her sparingly haunting voice to strike a chord with listeners. As a rock queen, she uses a more distorted and heavily guitar-driven approach that vibrates well with angst, but leaves the lyrics a bit shallow and, for me, hard to follow. They’re either too personal in this album or just not enough.

While early tracks like “Never Be Mine,” and “Shut Up Kiss Me” are upbeat and rockabilly in nature, the B-sides slow the record way down, like a car exiting the highway.

“Heart Shaped Face” makes you want to sway in the dim light of fire, and Olsen channels a Lana Del Rey-like voice that swells and echoes throughout the track.

“Sister” and “Woman” are grand, lumbering, poetic gestures, running almost eight minutes each, that may be nice to listen to on a sultry, dull evening when your breath is heavy with stout. When you want a tune to take a night drive to, these are some of the tracks I would tuck away for later.

Olsen throws her strengths where the instrumentation wavers, and “MY WOMAN” has a bit of a sophomore slump consistency to it.

Her moxie and affinity for long form tracks make you wonder if Ray LaMontagne and Frankie Cosmos became one person for this album as Angel Olsen.

Perhaps, my lust for drastic experimentation left me longing for more dissonance, but my palette felt dry throughout the first listen. It’s a nice listen, but not an album that will really stick to your ribs.