Love songs are a tricky thing to pull off. You run the risk of sounding too cheesy, insincere, or, god forbid, you get in a bit too deep and create something so embarrassing I have to turn that shit off midway through.
So then how does Angel Olsen fare? After her 2012 release Half Way Home I’ll admit I felt her follow up Burn Your Fire For No Witness stepped in a lot of the right directions, but it lacked the visceral impact I was after. My Woman makes more of these moves and combines her dreamy, silky smooth, voice with some absolutely gorgeous 50/60s rock and roll guitar tones, making a sound almost like that of Fiona Apple, or a more hyped up version of Joanna Newsom. It’s an alluring combo and on first listen I was enamoured.
When I was 14 I felt the same way about a girl in my English class. She was funny, smart, and made my puberty-wracked body feel kinda strange. I did my best at being séduisant and before I knew it (and to my amazement) we were in a very teenage sense dating. We went to movies, we went to cheap cafes—the usual fare. It was exactly what I wanted, exactly the way I thought it should go.
But within a couple of weeks it was still just that. It seemed we were following some kind of script unknowingly. I wasn’t entirely sure if I was doing something right or wrong. People had always told me about the spark, the passion—was it simply I was too young?
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I became distant. She noticed, it quickly ended. I wasn’t sure how to feel. I wasn’t happy, but at the same time I wasn’t particularly upset either. In retrospect I’m pretty sure she felt the same way. We were just going through the motions, carrying on in a way that was expected of us. Now that I think about it I don’t even know if she actually liked me that much.
This is the same way My Woman makes me feel. It’s a logical progression and a step in the right direction. Everything sounds heartfelt and nice, but underneath there is a sense of the calculated, the expected. I wanted something more; I wanted something that I wasn’t expecting; I wanted to feel like someone had gone out of their way to make something that felt genuinely special. All the motions are here, but it doesn’t feel quite right.
But I’m torn. I cannot deny the way I felt after first listen, and for those whose only exposure to Olsen will be this album, it’s a modern masterpiece in romantic storytelling. It’s laden with as much humor as it is heartfelt and undying love. Cheesy lines like “shut up and kiss me” are presented in a way that makes you genuinely want to do it. Olsen deftly avoids all the pitfalls so many modern love songs succumb to.
In a sense this album is representative of the way a lot of relationships fall apart. Everything seems so exciting at first, but one quickly falls into a routine. Spontaneity falls by the wayside and you’re left with a hollow feeling. But you can’t put a score on love, and I guess I have to put a score on this album.
Angel Olsen will perform at San Fran (Wellington) on December 13.