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Angel Olsen Sings With Fierceness And Fatalism On 'My Woman'


This is FRESH AIR. Over the course of her recording career beginning in 2010, Angel Olsen has written albums that sound like folk music or indie rock or what she's called my low-fi velvet underground sound. But rock critic Ken Tucker says Olsen's never made an album with such a diverse variety of styles as her new one titled "My Woman." Here's Ken's review.


ANGEL OLSEN: (Singing) It hurts to be around you. I can't stand to hear your lying. Whenever you're beside me a part of me is dying. And every time I see you...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Angel Olsen can make an expression of pain or frustration sound like inspirational verse. She's mastered a kind of poetry of exasperation set to music that assures you she's very much in control of her emotions and her life.

Listen to the way she takes a sprawling lyric that sounds like the description of a dream and wedges it into a very precise chorus that is her version of a 1960s girl group ballad.


OLSEN: (Singing) Coming from an endless place. Heaven hits me when I see your face. I go blind every time. Hate to have to watch you go, thought I'd been through this. Lord knows I've been trying. I'm still trying. You'll never be mine. You'll never be mine. You'll never be mine. You'll never be mine. You'll never be mine. You'll never be mine. But I would watch you...

TUCKER: I love the way Olsen's voice takes on a fatalistic firmness in the chorus. She's so sure that, quote, "you'll never be mine," there's no arguing with her. It's a conviction that spills over into the album's next and very different song, "Shut Up Kiss Me." It's no wonder this is the song she chose to perform when she appeared recently on Stephen Colbert's "Late Show." It's at once the tune most immediately recognizable as a catchy pop song while also extending the theme she's carefully developing over the course of the new album, a fierceness that can be romantic or despairing or cheerfully demanding. Here, it's all of those things at once.


OLSEN: (Singing) I ain't hanging up this time. I ain't giving up tonight. Even if you walk around, as though you think you're right. At your worst you still believe it's worth the fight. I could make it all go away. Tell me what you think and don't delay. We could still be having some sweet memories. This heart still beats for you. Why can't you see? Shut up, kiss me, hold me tight. Shut up, kiss me, hold me tight. Stop your crying. It's all right. Shut up, kiss me, hold me tight. Stop...

TUCKER: Olsen has a tendency to begin her songs with careful consideration as though she's just now at the moment of recording finalizing what she wants to say and how to phrase it. This has an effect that seems both spontaneous and well thought out, as it does on the song that opens the album called "Intern."


OLSEN: (Singing) Maybe you know that it's been too long. Going through the motions as you sing your song. Doesn't matter who you are or what you've done. Still got to wake up and be someone, still got to wake up and be someone. I don't care what the papers say. It's just another intern with a resume. I'm going to fall in love with you some day. I'm going to fall in love and run away. I'm going to fall in love and run away. Everyone I know has got...

TUCKER: One of my favorite songs here is one of the most ominous "Heart Shaped Face." That phrase could describe Olsen's own face, but for her, it's the face of a possible rival for the affections of her lover. Who's heart-shaped face are you thinking of, she asks. Her voice, a threat, the guitar a gun ready to go off, depending on the answer.


OLSEN: (Singing) I've seen you changing. I've seen you changing. Was it me you were thinking of all the time when you thought of me? Was it me you were thinking of all the time when you thought of me? Or was it your mother? Or was it your shelter? Or was it another with a heart-shaped face?

TUCKER: At one point on a song called "Woman," Olsen offers a blunt challenge. I dare you to understand what makes me a woman. The rest of the album is Angel Olsen's explanation of why it's not possible to fully understand what makes her the woman she is, and she's more than fine with that. Her songs would rather keep you guessing and being surprised.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Angel Olsen's new album "My Woman."

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, Washington Post foreign correspondent Joshua Partlow says at the heart of the disastrous 15-year war in Afghanistan, is America's relationship with former President Hamid Karzai and his ambitious sometimes self-dealing brothers. Partlow's new book is "A Kingdom Of Their Own." Hope you can join us.


DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer is Roberta Shorrock. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. John Sheehan directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.