After the resounding critical reception of Angel Olsen’s sophomore album Burn Your Fire for No Witness, the singer-songwriter was poised to grow into an indie darling with MY WOMAN. Instead, she came up short, creating an arduous and repetitive listen to curb her fans.
On the surface, MY WOMAN feels like it could be the album to bring dream pop back into the music world’s consciousness. For years, artists such as the Flaming Lips and Sigur Ros have displayed a variety of simple sonic textures to draw in listeners for an encompassing experience, but the genre has stalled since their breakthroughs. Angel Olsen was dream pop’s chance to bring itself back to the minds of mainstream music listeners.
However, beyond Olsen’s nostalgic lo-fi guise, there’s almost nothing original in MY WOMAN. She has the typical frail vocals and jangly guitar chords of artists such as Liz Phair and Courtney Barnett but lacks much of their character. Almost every song is based off two or three traditional song structures, and after a few songs, the entire album starts to feel repetitive, doubling back on itself and becoming sleep ASMR for its listeners.
In terms of lyrical content, Olsen brings a slight breath of fresh air to her genre, forgoing the irony many artists rely on in favor of a much more serious tone. She uses personal details few dream pop artists would attempt to incorporate into their music, trending more toward a mainstream indie pop sound than an experimental one. On “Not Gonna Kill You,” she weaves a poetic tale, singing, “A love that never seems too careful to confine will be forever / Never lost or too defined / To lose the feeling of an endless searching through / How to have made what is never about me or you.”
The opener, “Intern,” is the perfect three-minute representation of everything Olsen throws into her sound — feeble vocals dominate the mix, while sparse synths accentuate key moments of the song. It’s a punchy track and establishes Olsen’s position well with lyrics such as “Pick up the phone, I swear it’s the last time / Falling in love and I swear it’s the last time.”
For the rest of the album, Olsen attempts to keep up the standard she set, but more often than not, she fails to match her initial effort. The key failure of each song is a general lack of surprise — Olsen sticks to an initially charming but eventually obnoxious formula for each of her songs. From the sixth track, “Not Gonna Kill You,” until the LP’s conclusion four tracks later, almost nothing worth noting happens. If MY WOMAN were an EP, it might work, but instead an entire half of the full-length album can be instantly forgotten.
This album isn’t necessarily a failure — the first five tracks are fun upon first listen. But after the first time, MY WOMAN is almost unbearable to experience over again. Emotion litters the album, and Olsen does a great job of emphasizing exactly what she’s feeling in each song, but it’s difficult to focus on her lyrics when there is nothing drawing you in.
Angel Olsen was ready to bring her genre back into the music world’s minds, but with MY WOMAN she’s placed herself in a rut. It’s obvious she hasn’t evolved as an artist much at all, forgoing experimentation for a safer style than her previous releases. Although Olsen might be poised to evolve into an indie star, song structure prevents MY WOMAN from moving her career forward.
Album: MY WOMAN
Genre: Dream Pop/Indie Pop