WVAU’s #2 Album of 2014: Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Brendan Principato

Courtesy of Angel Olsen.

For me, 2014 will be remembered as the year of Angel Olsen. Her masterpiece, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, stands as a landmark record that expresses sentiments about loneliness, honesty, and vulnerability in a such a way that you can‰’t help but emotionally crumble before it. The beauty of this record is that the emotion doesn‰’t simply feel real, it is undeniably, irrefutable real. Like a, well… like an angel (fuck it), Angel delivers poignant melodies and perfectly constructed sparse rock riffs that bleed with catharsis and nostalgia. 

The album showcases a vast array of moods, dipping low and swooping high with Olsen‰’s voice floating from her mouth like silk. There‰’s a slight warble that makes it seem as though she could break at any second. And sure, Olsen‰’s voice is gorgeous, but its duality sets it apart from other artists in her genre. The fragility of its warble also feels resilient, as if she‰’s got strength even in the weakest parts of her. This idea of duality seems to go along with a lot of what Olsen talks about on the record, perfectly pairing her sonics with her concepts.

This record came to me at the perfect time. I had just landed in Rome, and was going to be living there for 6 months. I didn‰’t know anybody and felt completely out of my element. I was extremely lonely but simultaneously was surrounded by beauty more immense than any I had ever experienced. Looking back and listening to this record now, I think that is the very essence of why I love Angel‰’s album. It‰’s so sad, it‰’s so heartbreaking, it‰’s so earnest, and at the same time is the most bright, beautiful and relatable music I have heard in years. Angel achieves a marriage between musical simplicity and emotional complexity that most artists never come close to touching. This subtle blend gives the record an inexplicable quality that I think has led to its universal appeal. I am yet to find a single person who doesn‰’t like this album. It‰’s so raw and purely emotional that it‰’s axiom. Everyone can find something about it to latch onto and no track falters. 

There‰’s “Unfucktheworld‰” which is without question, the best pop song written all year. It‰’s simple, straightforward and catchy, but unlike other pop songs, the hook you‰’ll be singing to yourself over and over is a depressing meditation about doubt and human solidarity. “I am the only one now / You may not be around.‰” It‰’s a cautionary song by a jaded woman who knows that people aren‰’t around forever and that‰’s that. What you want doesn‰’t matter. Fucking feel that. She says all that in two minutes. The only other song I can think of that hits this hard in such a short amount of time is “On a Good Day‰” by Joanna Newsom (which if you haven‰’t heard you should listen to immediately). 

There‰’s “White Fire‰” the brutal, hushed single that sits like the crown jewel in a most regal tiara. Clocking in at just under seven minutes, “White Fire‰” is a grueling account of defeat. It‰’s a nostalgic slow burner that leaves you tense and hopeless. It‰’s the grounding track of the album that shows Angel at her darkest and 2014‰’s music at its very best.

On “Enemy‰” it feels like Olsen is in the same room as the listener, whispering into their ear, confessing something extremely private to them, and on “Stars‰” it‰’s as though she‰’s talking to every person on earth individually, simultaneously. 

Olsen conveys emotion with more intensity than Sharon Van Etten, with more simplicity than Sun Kil Moon and with more authenticity than FKA twigs. The raw feeling and beautiful songwriting found on Burn Your Fire For No Witness surpasses that of every other record this year. It‰’s an absolute gem. It’s not an of-the-moment record, but a near-spiritual assemblage of experiences and emotions set to music. It feels timeless because there‰’s no gimmick. There‰’s no hype, there‰’s no bullshit, there‰’s just Angel. There‰’s just Angel singing about life on our planet where people do bad shit to other people. There‰’s just Angel realizing that at the bottom of it all, we‰’re all together because we‰’re all alone. There‰’s just Angel getting herself through that reality with music and looking for truth. And there‰’s just all of us hearing her voice and thinking: “holy shit, me too.‰Û