Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Album Review: Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Angel Olsen’s third album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, is a thoughtful examination of the struggle between co-dependency and self-efficacy. While complex emotionally, it’s still affecting and beautiful.

Olsen sings the root cause of the album’s conflict in the first line of the first track, “Unfucktheworld”: “I quit my dreaming the moment that I found you.” Throughout the album, she illustrates how two people can lose themselves in each other through extended compromise.

The couple in the songs can’t overcome the loss of self and blame each other.

“You can’t tell me that you love me when I’m standing in your way,” Olsen sings on “High and Wild.”

What once worked well can’t continue working because people change on different schedules. Olsen laments this on the utopic “Iota.”

“If only we could always stay the same,” she sings. It’s a half-hearted plea because she knows her feelings have already changed.

Much of Burn Your Fire For No Witness deals with reconciling love for another person with the need to separate for your own good.

Olsen’s answer to this doubt comes in the record's title. “Burn your fire for no witness” is a more powerful, poetic version of “dance like nobody’s watching.”

“Lights Out,” which has a slight country tint, is Olsen’s anthem of agency. “No one’s gonna take it for you, darling,” she sings firmly.

Not all of Burn Your Fire For No Witness is diagnosis. There’s a lot of emotion recorded as well. “Forgiven/Forgotten” and “Hi-Five” are both full of fear and uncertainty about loneliness.

The emotional apex comes during the closer “Windows.” This is Olsen’s aria. It’s the moment she pushes her haunting vocals to the max. The album’s light motif reappears in full force as she sings, “What’s so wrong with the light?” over and over. Olsen’s voice and song convey the power of realizing one’s self-worth in a way that few others could.

When it comes to break up albums, raw emotions tend to be overvalued. Anger fades. Sadness goes away. Olsen isn’t some two-dimensional scorned woman stereotype. She doesn’t just tell us how she feels, she tells us what she learned through Burn Your Fire For No Witness. That’s not just more satisfying over time, it’s enlightening.

Angel Olsen will play Cat’s Cradle May 16. Tickets are $12 in advance.

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