21st Century Music: Angel Olsen
21st Century Music are playlists and profiles that focus on artists that have released their music since 2000. These highlight new(er) acts that continue the sound and spirit of the older acts that are the focus of Ceremony. Click on the streaming service of your choice below to listen to the playlist as you read along.
Readers of this blog will know I’m not much for country music, and even will rarely entertain a country flavour to my listening. My patience also runs short for the acoustic, stripped down styles of the singer-songwriters of folk, blues, or the recent wave of indie artists. The country twang of the lyrics and guitar or sparseness of the acoustic songs are at odds to the wall-of-sound, dense vocal and instrumentation blends that I enjoy most. So it has been a pleasant surprise for me to embrace Angel Olsen, the indie/alt-country artist from St. Louis via North Carolina.
Angel started her career backing Will Oldham on some of his Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy albums before going solo. Her early work on her first EP and first full album were sparse, haunting, and carried by her unique and entrancing voice. For certain it is her vocals that draws me to her music. Her country-folk sound with an operatic flair gives her music its own character, separating it from any one genre.
Olsen came to the attention of the likes of me with the release of her fantastic 2014 album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness. It was a great album that built on her acoustic styles but fleshed out many songs into full-band rockers. The four-song sequence in the middle of the album, selected for this playlist, was a stellar stretch making the album one of the best of the decade. She largely repeated that effort with her next album, My Woman, making her one of the most critically acclaimed artists of the current decade. Songs like “Forgiven/Forgotten,” “Hi-Five,” and “Shut Up Kiss Me” easily make any lists of top songs over the past five years.
In 2017 Olsen released a compilation album of B-sides, demos, and other unreleased tracks from her prior recording sessions. Phases therefore takes us back to her folkier, barer arrangements and style, leaving us waiting and wanting for the next release with her band and the prospect of more rocking gems like “Give It Up” or sultry ballads like “Woman.”
I find these days we are inundated with lilted female singers throwing their indie songs at us and it’s all starting to sound the same. Angel Olsen stands apart and above, easily drawn out from the masses with her strong, dramatic, and definitive voice.
The Playlist - song\album (year)
If It’s Alive, It Will \ Strange Cacti EP (2010)
The Waiting \ Half Way Home (2012)
You Are Song \ Half Way Home (2012)
The Sky Opened Up \ Half Way Home (2012)
Free \ Half Way Home (2012)
Sweet Dreams \ Sleepwalker EP (2013)
Forgiven/Forgotten \ Burn Your Fire for No Witness (2014)
Hi-Five \ Burn Your Fire for No Witness (2014)
White Fire \ Burn Your Fire for No Witness (2014)
High & Wild \ Burn Your Fire for No Witness (2014)
Shut Up Kiss Me \ My Woman (2016)
Give It Up \ My Woman (2016)
Woman \ My Woman (2016)
Fly on Your Wall \ Phases (2017)