Intentionally or not, singer-songwriter Angel Olsen’s acerbic new album “Burn Your Fire for No Witness” dropped right around that most divisive of calendar dates, Valentine’s Day. The timing proves apt for these 11 songs rife with untold desire, regret and, yes, love.
Olsen wants to get a lot off her chest on her sophomore full-length. Nearly every song is seemingly addressed to an individual with whom the singer has an untold history. Yet, she can’t bring herself to divulge too much detail for the listener; we’re left with vague implications of failure, betrayal and lingering pain that manage to be specific to Olsen’s music, but universal enough for us to empathize.
The singer seems to have gotten the short end of the stick in these relationships. She laments, “I lost my dream, I lost my reason all again” on opener “Unf---theworld,” and, “It’s easy to see /All of the kindness that you've offered me, it doesn't last” on “Enemy.” Those two tracks bookend the emotional spectrum of the album, the former a bleak navel-gaze and the latter a resolute kiss-off.
“Hi-Five” is the closest “Burn Your Fire” gets to a narrative, in which we find the speaker with another lonely bar patron attempting to spark some embers of romance while keeping their physical relationship as un-intimate as possible (“We’ll keep our hands, our legs, even our lips apart,” she clamors excitedly.) Alas, Olsen eventually succumbs to engaging in the titular gesture, mildly indicating she might not be the most reliable of narrators.
When vivacious but icy lead single “Forgiven/Forgotten” perked up ears with its driving guitar and vocal distortion, Olsen seemed to be hinting at a foray into a more-rock driven sound after the mellow folk of debut LP “Half Way Home.” Aforementioned second single “Hi-Five,” which also follows immediately on the record, further supported the electric-metamorphosis hypothesis.
But Olsen quickly pulls the plug for its centerpiece, the Leonard Cohen-esque “White Fire,” a haunting finger-picked ballad that teleports from “Hi-Five’s” country-western bar stool to a desolate candlelit bedroom. The album mostly continues in that vein, with the two closing tracks “Enemy” and “Windows” particularly sparse to showcase Olsen’s strident and mesmerizing vocal ability sans rock 'n roll grit.