Angel Olsen is demanding. She’s bound only to herself and her art, and that is made clear in her emotionally wrought sophomore album, “Burn Your Fire For No Witness.” The album is intensely personal and lonesome, yet throughout, Olsen’s commanding vocals, set over wispy acoustic guitar and reverberating garage-rock verve, waltz in the face of sorrow.
In her first track, 'Unf**ktheworld,' Olsen murmurs, “I quit my dreaming the moment that I found you / I started dancing just to be around you.” She’s imploring in her confession. Her voice remains modest as her distinctive warble carries over a subdued guitar strumming. We’re hit, immediately, by her songwriting, which is as sincere and moving as ever.
“Are you lonely, too?” Olsen then asks. She pulls at us, beckoning us into the uptempo 'Hi-Five,' a careening declaration of loneliness. Olsen’s verses have the relaxed, gauzy feel of someone who’s been lonely for a long time—someone who’s familiar with being alone. When we get to the chorus, she gets punchy, emphatic over the gritty guitar verve and swaggering drums. It’s a surprisingly catchy song for one that’s about finding companionship in a long-lived aloneness. We get that same sort of juxtaposition in the rampant 'High & Wild.' The track is carousing, with a persistent upbeat feel. The lyrics are harsher and a bit accusatory, but she still maintains the wistful streak that courses throughout the album: “If only if only / I had nothing more to say.”
'Dance Slow Decades' is reminiscent of a twangier Sharon van Etten, with the same heartfelt lyricism, swirling electric guitar and gradual buildups. Olsen’s timbre is the most affecting here as it veers through a hazy, wavering soundscape. We’re lost in a sweeping back-and-forth; she brings her muted dialogue through penetrating refrains into a pure, sustained note. Her voice eventually fades away, lost in the atmospheric whirling of resounding guitar and far-off drums.
Angel Olsen is at once fiery and delicate, gentle and unapologetic. "Burn Your Fire For No Witness" is honest in its heartbreak. We’re rallied into something broken, into Olsen’s unruly tenuousness. Her final track, 'Windows,' burns slowly. The vocals are in a higher register, and each line blends sweetly into the minimal instrumentals. The song is fragile, ending the album on the same tone with which it began. It aches, but it reaches out to comfort, to lift. The sound is ghostly, hinting at a conversation within. She’s persuading—almost begging—as she asks, “Won’t you open up a window sometime?” By the end, her graceful swoons grow insistent. The snare drum sounds ready to shatter, and Olsen builds us up until we fall back, together, back into the same exquisite yearning: “There’s nothing wrong with the light.” The song ends with a soft up-note, balanced precariously on a streak of hope.