Angel Olsen is messing with you. Placing “Intern” in the opening slot on her latest album, My Woman, and releasing it as her first single was a calculated trap, set to disarm listeners and make them question their expectations. The beautiful but confounding video only confirmed any suspicion of foul play. Here she stood, the stunning artist you knew and loved from Burn Your Fire For No Witness, wearing a sparkling, silver wig, confronting you with a steady, almost defiant stare while synth tones swirled around her unmistakable croon. This wasn’t the Angel Olsen that you knew and loved, this was someone new but equally intriguing. What was the rest of My Woman going to sound like? Would it be a *gasp* pop record?
No. Olsen’s third album is definitely not a pop record, but it’s not any type of record in particular either. It’s just a further exploration of her sound and her identity as an artist. This shouldn’t come as any real surprise to fans who have followed her since the beginning of her solo career. 2014’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness revealed an equally noticeable shift, as she electrified the folk songs of her debut Half Way Home, infusing them with the bold, punk attitude of the woman behind them.
My Woman is another evolution, finding Olsen trying on genres and identities like one does hats, testing to see which one fits. Starting with “Intern,” Olsen gives a nod to the breathy femininity of ‘60s French pop stars like Françoise Hardy. “Never Be Mine” is a country-tinged torch song. “Shut Up Kiss Me” is a garage rock romp. “Not Gonna Kill You” is a brooding nod to PJ Harvey, a song that’s all Id and no romance. In other words, this is an album that is decidedly not folk. Despite the outward disparities, all of the songs flow seamlessly together, combining to create Olsen’s best record yet.
In the recent past, Angel Olsen has expressed a frustration with being pigeonholed. My Woman is an effort to shrug off any preconceived notions of what kind of music she’s making and who she is as an artist. It’s a rejection of any label previously attached to her and her music, and could perhaps also be argued as a statement on labels and expectations that are thrust on women in the music industry and beyond.
B-Side track “Woman” is a declaration that Olsen belongs to herself and no one else. She confronts the listener, demanding, “Tell me what I wouldn’t do. Tell me that love isn’t true. I dare you to understand what makes me a woman.” I’d like to think that she isn’t just talking about herself, but of all women. Try to define us and we’ll shirk expectations, suddenly displaying a new complicated, messy, but equally beautiful side. No track embodies this complexity more than the extraordinary “Sister.” What starts as a simple, downtempo love song suddenly explodes into an epic existential jam worthy of Neil Young or Fleetwood Mac. But that’s the thing about Angel Olsen — just when you think you have her figured out, she shifts and transforms, revealing a fresh layer that both surprises and thrills.