It is a rather small stage from which ANGEL OLSEN unfolds her irresistible dusty folk with Burn Your Fire No Witness – but, contrary to what we heard from her on previous recordings, at least it is an actual stage; not just some rundown bar-room in which she bravely enters the most highlighted chair. Whilst her first full-length Half Way Home concentrated on OLSEN, her voice, her lyrics and sparse acoustic instrumentation, this second one reveals a decent amount of freedom. As the previously conveyed tracks Hi-Five and Forgiven/Forgotten already hinted, there is a good amount of fuzz and rock surrounding the eleven songs. With these fresh band-possibilities there is still one inevitable question: Will she manage to keep up the intimacy that made up her music in the first place?
There has been – and, that said, still is – a sense of solitude and directness to OLSEN’s words, that made it very easy to resonate with them. There are different reasons why this uniqueness still works on Burn Your Fire For No Witness within the framework of an actual band. First of all, the center of the music still is ANGEL OLSEN’s voice. A remarkable, strong, trembling but still highly fragile and sensitive clamour, forming words as mysterious as plainly clear. With such a gift, OLSEN consequently allows herself tracks in which she stands alone. Like a feminine LEONARD COHEN she stubbornly picks and slowly moves in and out of tracks like White Fire; stuck in a sleepy but astonishing conscious stream of poetry, OLSEN concludes in the eponymous lines “If you’ve still got some light in you, then go before it’s gone/ burn your fire for no witness, it’s the only way it’s done”.
In other moments, the band catches up with her will to escapism very well. Then, f.e. in High Wild, we hear her sounding more like an unpretentious version of NICO, rather than the lone-wolf-folk-singer the cliché expects her to be. Elsewhere, especially in Hi-Five and Forgotten/Forgotten, this record explores the distorted love-life of MAZZY STAR and others, presenting OLSEN as troubled, reflected and angry – yes, even a little sarcastic. Once more, producer JOHN CONGLETON did a great job on this; he knows exactly where to keep and where to maybe even stress the edges.
When OLSEN sings, she sings of life as both singular and undefined, sincere and unpredictable. And she does so with a voice that sounds more like a foreign intruder, something that possesses her, instead of the other way around. Yet, the horror that lies within this imagination still fights its way into a calming and positive view on things: “Everything is tragic, it all just falls apart/ but when i look into your eyes it peaces up my heart”. With songs like these, being sad doesn’t feel that bad anymore.
With her second full-length Burn Your Fire For No Witness, ANGEL OLSEN takes the exactly right step forward into the mist of uncertainty, which is: the beauty of distortion.
NBHAP Rating: 4/5