It's that time of year again -- when nothing is remotely freeing about the sticky heat pervading the Southern skies. (I'm a transplanted northerner, so I may exist in a somewhat uncommon state when it comes to lusting after cold weather and practically orgasming at the first scent of dying leaves and that unmistakable chill in the air.) No matter your feelings regarding the changing seasons, it is a fact that our complex human race requires certain objects of respite to ease these types of transitions. We need better, fresh-faced music; we need foreign foodie flavors. (Lord knows we need our pumpkin spice lattes.)
Above all, on this Friday, Sept. 2, we need Angel Olsen and her brand-new record "My Woman." Here is why.
1. She is a woman writing her own music.
Olsen's 10-track album was entirely conceived of and written by Olsen herself. Her lyrical mission into indie rock innovation is wholeheartedly owned not only by her unique experience as a person but also by her arrestingly dream-like voice that is somehow, simultaneously, grounded in reality. Thankfully, it isn't unusual to witness a woman authoring her own musical production within the indie genre, but it is definitely worth celebrating in the name of women as a whole. In the pop-culture dominated society we live in -- where it seems female artists come under fire for appearing fake far more frequently than their male counterparts do -- a presence like Olsen's is evidence that those types of criticism are little more than tools which exhaust their producers.
2. She appreciates the production team on an advanced level.
Not only is the musical content altogether Angel's, but so are the music videos derived from "My Woman", for which she served as director and editor -- and, obviously, the talent. In an interview with Elle, she confessed her lack of exact expertise in the video arts, but expressed her simple desire to pursue them in this project. "I do like learning about how it works so I can see from a different perspective how hard it is," she explained.
But the videos are far from bordering on amateur territory. Rather, they allow a unique window into the mind of a musician who has controlled all aspects of her visual representation. From sultry head-tilts perched atop an old red Mercedes, to breezy uphill urban walks, to stunningly silver-sparkled futuristic headset serenades, the imagery pictured in these videos are perfectly in synch with the words dripping from Olsen's lips. She makes eye contact with you at the very moments you are intended to receive recognition from her, doubling the sensation you get of, "Hey, look at me. I am telling you this -- and this is the truth."
3. She is an absolute demon on roller skates.
If you haven't already, take a moment to watch the video for track three, "Shut Up Kiss Me". Angel Olsen does not mess around. Not only does she not have time to include an "and" in that clause (it is an order), and not only did she direct the video in question, but she planned the sequence out and apparently thought, "You know what would make this video 500 times fiercer? Roller skates." She grooves around the skating rink, taunting some ex-lover, bribing them with the allure of a shimmering head-to-toe ensemble and flashing lights, and reappears shooting down a darkened street like the badass she is. Whoa, girl. Too. Much.
4. She reps N.C. in all the best ways.
Although it's true that she officially hails from St. Louis, M.I., the artist currently resides in Asheville. Since moving to the mountainous hippie state of perpetual good vibes in 2013, Olsen's career has exploded. A former member of Bonnie "Prince" Billy's ensemble and collaborator with Wilco's Leroy Bach, the artist put out considerable works in solo performance, but it wasn't until "Burn Your Fire For No Witness", released early 2014 that she began to enjoy a fuller band setup and widespread recognition. I remember working as a DJ at my college radio station at the time of its promotion and being surrounded by an overwhelmingly excited buzz about this new chick's sound. She was so, so good. We hadn't been that psyched since Twin Sister came to Greensboro two years prior.
For the album artwork of "Burn Your Fire", Olsen commissioned a local artist named Kreh Mellik, whose twisting red designs and folklore-inspired palette proved a supremely nice pairing to the often prophetic lyricism with which Olsen toyed throughout the record. One of the album's videos was even filmed across many of Asheville's woody avenues, making a bitter hipster falling-out-of-love story somehow the slightest bit more hipster. A former resident of Chicago, Olsen says she now loves returning home from tour and enjoys a fully-functional driver's license, as it allows her access to the gorgeous, adventure-ridden, Blue Ridge-framed backyard she is now privy to, a belief that has been illustrated more than once on her Instagram page. You know it, Angel.
5. It's hard to get over the harmonics of her theoretical composition...
Providing an adequate description, using only words, of the musical choices Olsen makes is truly a difficult thing to do. She plays a lot with patterns. "Why?" you might ask. "Patterns are boring; they're routine." Ordinarily, you'd be absolutely correct! But in Olsen's music -- and especially on "My Woman" -- that assumption doesn't apply. Like a religious rendering for church organ built on cycling verses, she seizes the listener with a cozy melodic phrase and then builds on what she's taught you, keeping the anchored chords on repeat but reaching higher and higher heights, and then you realize -- "Hey! That's different." -- not just from what you knew earlier that track but from the production of any other current artist.
But what's perhaps the most distinct flavor in Olsen's harmonic concoctions is the element of nostalgia. She bottles up sounds she was raised on, reaching as far back as into the doll-voiced era of Connie Francis and the Everly Brothers, and translates them into outlets for 21st-centure woes, spiced with just the right amount of attitude to land a spot in our era. And indeed, the attitude abounds. It abounds especially on the heavier tracks, as it did on "Burn Your Fire", with Olsen rollicking back and forth within classic rock progressions as though flipping you off, smirking, "We got down to this before -- why stop now?"
6. ...her ethereal vocal quality...
Remember that randomly nightmarish club serenade from "Twin Peaks", featuring the prolific David Lynch collaborator Julee Cruise? Of course you do. Angel Olsen achieves this sound, in all its holy airiness and resistance to strict pitch adherence, seemingly all the time without trying very hard. There is something quite unmatched in the control she has over her voice. On one hand, it's free, lacking precision, and conversational in inflection, sometimes with little concern over how drastically different a word might sound from verse to verse due to the emotion with which it brims. Her tone doesn't lack experience, although it can come across demure; that occasional fragility is only evidence of Olsen's capacity to act out a vast array of characters who have a great deal to say on the topics of love and missed connections and fading memories. On "Not Gonna Kill You", she goes from next-to-zero to 100 in about a half a minute; before you can say "'80's", there's spaced-out reverb and thumping drum beats and a few Benetar-esque howls that leave the listener breathless, in the dust.
7. ...and the rhythmic surprises she springs.
Another aspect which attracts me about Olsen's recorded music, in addition to her live performance, is that it comes straight from her heart as though it were poetry being projected over a relatively steady beat, as music generally necessitates. She is privy to a musical secret by her own divining and stylings, though it was known by artists as ancient as the Renaissance: that the center can still hold if you escape the regimented rhythmic pattern here and there. For the most part, this sort of staggering on "My Woman" is done naturally, for the sake of what she's saying, as one could assume it would; but at other times, it appears, fleetingly, that she's playing a joke on the consumer, stating, "Oh no, I can go there, and you'll like it." I'm not sure how big a "White Album" fan Olsen is (hit me up, girl?), but there is one distinct moment in "Give It Up" that to me channels the aggressively driving thuds of "Glass Onion", stacking evenly against fluctuating chromatic shifts and giving Olsen room to land her vocal hits just a hair behind the beat.
8. She is humble.
Albeit, this is a minor point when assessing the overall value of a musician's public output, but in my opinion it is an important one. The singer is relatively new to the fame she now enjoys, but in spite of that she is an incredibly endearing presence. She has indicated in several interviews that she is kind to herself and to her body amidst touring and remaining true to her identity; she works out, she eats right, she treats herself to massages. On stage, she chats a bit, but not very much -- enough to express her happiness that you've come and that she isn't taking any of this too seriously. It all makes sense when you take in albums of hers in their entirety, by yourself, in the seclusion of your car or your bedroom and receive her messages, however vague they may be at times, into your own character and allow yourself to realize something new.
9. A portion of the new album's proceeds go to Doctors Without Borders.
Olsen deserves recognition for her selection of the organization, which is quite possibly one of the most deserving groups of extra support right now given what they have endured and accomplished as of late. A quick run-down: They have spent considerable resources combatting a yellow fever outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; 1,600 workers, broken up into teams, are aiming to vaccinate 760,000 people -- just 10 percent of those who have the potential to be affected. And in July, they set up the Irbid project in Jordan in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, through which they provide free maternal and newborn care to needy mothers. But on account of the most hateful forces in this world, the organization recently had to pull workers from other efforts in six Yemen hospitals after the most recent in a series of deadly airstrikes in the region earlier this month. If you are like me, and many others who feel helpless and confused in the seemingly endless barrage of horrid, terrifying news stemming from this region of the world, you can do your small part with a portion of your money here. Then, follow your purchase up with a little mindful meditation and the knowledge that you will do no harm unto others, so long as you're tuning in to Olsen's sweet sounds.
10. Angel Olsen is a babe.
There. I said it.